This parsha post is dedicated  as a zechus for a refuah sheleima for Baruch Shmuel ben Chana, and l’ilui nishmas Dovid Tzvi Hersch ben Rochel.

This week’s double-portion of Behar-Bechukotai is a lengthy one.  It includes new Mitzvos, such as Shemittah (the once-in-every-seven year of rest and release of the land), laws of specifications and treatment of a slave, and other fundamental legalities; the frightening Tochacha (Admonition) – the Divine retribution to be sent our way when we scorn, forsake and hate Torah, Mitzvos and those who perpetuate them; and the comforting promise of a bright future when we make Teshuvah – a vision of healing and cleansing, forgiveness and return.


When studying the parsha this past week, I picked up on a theme and sentiment, juxtaposed to multiple commandments: that of Yiras Hashem – fear and awe of G-d.  To follow are a few citations:

Concerning business dealings, especially with your fellow Jew:

וְלֹ֤א תוֹנוּ֙ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־עֲמִית֔וֹ וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱ-לֹהֶ֑יךָ כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְ-הֹוָ֖ה אֱ-לֹֽהֵיכֶֽם
V’lo sonu ish es-amiso v’yarasa may’Elokecha ki Ani Hashem Elokeichem.
And you shall not wrong, one man his fellow Jew, and you shall fear your G-d, for I am the Lord, your G-d.
{Vayikra 25:17}

Concerning the prohibition of lending money to your fellow Jew with interest:

אַל־תִּקַּ֤ח מֵֽאִתּוֹ֙ נֶ֣שֶׁךְ וְתַרְבִּ֔ית וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱ-לֹהֶ֑יךָ וְחֵ֥י אָחִ֖יךָ עִמָּֽךְ
Al-tikach may’ito neshich vetarbis v’yaraysa may’Elokecha v’chei achicha imach.You shall not take from him interest or increase, and you shall fear your G-d, and let your brother live with you.
{Vayikra 25:36}

Concerning the treatment of a Jewish servant owned by another Jew:

לֹֽא־תִרְדֶּ֥ה ב֖וֹ בְּפָ֑רֶךְ וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱ-לֹהֶֽיךָ
Lo sirdeh bo b’parech v’yaraysa may’Elokecha.You shall not work him with rigor, and you shall fear your G-d.
{Vayikra 25:43}

Why is fear of G-d of such paramount significance in the observance of these Mitzvos?

In the teachings of the mystical work Zohar, authored by R’ Shimon bar Yochai, a Mitzvah is likened to a bird, and fear and love of G-d are the wings by which it rises and soars before Him.  These emotive ‘wings’ prompt, enliven and focus all Mitzvah observance with the proper mindset and devotion.  In fact, the Tanya describes Yiras Hashem as the foundation, upon which love of G-d is built; respect before love, as it crucial to any relationship; and, doubtlessly, a relationship is what the Mitzvos achieve, for “Mitzvah” doesn’t only mean “commandment,” but also “connection.”

Awe of G-d’s Omnipresence is sensed and expressed on numerous varying levels.  Mere acceptance of G-d’s superiority, and obedience to Him (known as “Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shamayim”) albeit lacking emotional and palpable reverence within oneself, is a stepping stone, though not at all superior; basic, it is merely “intact.”  We must strive to integrate and infuse our avoda with emotion – even if that emotion is bred only intellectually rather than in the heart- for it to be considered complete service.  When we can’t cultivate even an intellectual feeling of reverence for G-d, yet still possess an awareness we are being watched, it is still accounted for us as “Yirah.”  This is an even lower level of fear, but it can effect compelling results in our moral conscience – shame to commit a sinful or embarrassing action in front of another person (falling into the category of sur mayra, in King David’s adage “Sur mayra v’asei tov – Turn from evil and do good {Tehillim 34}”).*

Indeed, Yiras Hashem is a most-vital necessity to fulfill any Mitzvah.  However, the above-mentioned Mitzvos specifically require an extra dose of morality and knowledge of the One Above, Who also “mimalei kol almin – fills all worlds,” and is paying close attention to each on of your thoughts, words and deeds.

We human beings were endowed with intelligence and cleverness.  We are susceptible to, and at times guilty of, employing those gifts for deceptive means.  Yes, we might have “street-smarts…” but do we really imagine we can outsmart G-d?  After all “yodeyah ta’aluomos – He knows the secrets of the heart,” as is declared in the Siddur.

And this is exactly how Rashi, Meforash extraordinaire on the Torah, explains the intriguing pattern.

In the passage of this parsha dealing with fair dealings, the expression “yaraysa may’Elokecha – you shall fear your G-d,” is used twice, in verses 14 and 17.  They each refer to a different type of mistreatment prohibited: monetarily, and verbally, such as through faulty counsel and provocative language.  One might attempt to excuse himself, claiming his inappropriate words were intended to rouse his friend to remorse and repentance.  Thus, fear of the all-knowing G-d will prevent him from erring in this area; an area of daily mundane life which is latent with potential for sanctification, as part of one’s service of Hashem in this world.

We are forbidden to lend to other Jews with the demand of interest.  Rashi puts into light that this is a very difficult Mitzvah, since it goes against the nature of man.  When we can make use of the money and see it grow exponentially, it pains us to see it perhaps rest idle in the borrower’s possession.  With this explanation, one might attempt to rationalize their negation of the Mitzvah.  Or, if one is in the position of money-handler, they could fabricate the money lent is in fact a Gentile’s (to whom the laws of Ribis [interest] do not apply), in order to acquire Ribis on it from the other Jew.  In either case, we are reminded to fear Hashem, who discerns right through to the heart and innermost thoughts of man, “for nothing is hidden from Him.” 

When we own a laborer, primarily a Jewish servant, we are forbidden to enslave him with undignified tasks and pointless jobs, such as ordering him to prepare a beverage for you for which you have no desire, or commanding him to till the ground until your return when you don’t necessarily intend to do so.  Such psychological torment is to be condemned; this is the very sort of work forced upon Bnei Yisroel while in Egypt!  You could say to yourself, “Ain makir badavar eem latzorech eem lav – No one can recognize if this was necessary or not…”  But guess Who is excluded from your grouping, and perceiving every unspoken thought?  “Yaraysa may’Elokecha…”

G-d forbid that any individual among the Jewish people, baalei nefesh (sensitive souls), could neglect such tenets of our Torah and faith!  Our Sages teach that the three distinguishing marks of a Jew are 1.) humility, 2.) compassion, and 3.) acts of kindness.  No, these are not reserved only for the Jewish people, and we are not immune to falling.  We are human beings, and within us wages a war between two inclinations of polar opposition – the G-dly soul and the animal soul, each vying for supremacy.

Within the heart of every soul in Israel rests an innate, dormant awe of Hashem, just needing to be aroused and cultivated.  Sometimes, when we totter on the edge of the chasm we create through our aveiro, it is this very innermost fear that saves us at the last moment from making the wrong choice and heading down an unfortunate path.

But as dark and grave as this may seem, despair not dear friends, for the climb, journey of growth, and success is within our reach: “Ki Karov Aylecho Hadavar Meod Bificha Uvilvavcha Laasoso – For the matter it is exceedingly near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do! {Tanya}”

אֲנִ֗י יְ-הֹוָה֙ אֱלֹ֣הֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־הוֹצֵ֥אתִי אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם לָתֵ֤ת לָכֶם֙ אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן לִֽהְי֥וֹת לָכֶ֖ם לֵֽ-אלֹהִֽים
Ani Hashem Elokaychem asher hotzaysi es’chem may’Eretz Mitzrayim laseis lachem es-Eretz Canaan lihiyos lachem lay’Elokim.I am the Lord, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be a G-d to you.
(Vayikra 25:38)

Hashem liberated us from Egypt in order that we could build a unique relationship with Him, through undertaking the mission of Torah and Mitzvos as bestowed at Har Sinai – the purpose of our Exodus.  The condition our freedom was established upon, was that we assume the G-d-given responsibility to serve as ambassadors of morality to the world, through disseminating the light of Torah and Mitzvos – even if they are difficult to uphold!

To borrow from the words of Charles Dicken’s, there are “great expectations;” and to elaborate in the words of R’ Tarfon, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either. {Pirkei Avot 2:21}”

כִּי־לִ֤י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ עֲבָדִ֔ים עֲבָדַ֣י הֵ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־הוֹצֵ֥אתִי אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יְ-הֹוָ֥ה אֱ-לֹֽהֵיכֶֽם:
Ki Li Bnei Yisroel avadim avdei heim asher hotzaysi osam may’Eretz Mitzrayim Ani Hashem Elokaychem.For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants, whom I took out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.
(Vayikra 25:55)

When we were released from the land of our bondage, it wasn’t simply a free-for-all.  Our lives were shaped by 613 more rules and their finer details, and we are still servants, even after our release from Pharaoh’s vice!  How?  Why?  We were made for something greater than indulging the whims of a Pharaoh – both the ancient ruler of Egypt, and our inner Pharaohs, semblances of him within us and ambitious to enslave us today.  We went from serving a coarse and earthly master, to a Master Who is beyond knowing and definition, Whose Torah we accepted upon ourselves is of His deepest expression of will and holiness and wisdom, which is present in everything.

What if we could break free from our mortal limitations and ‘reality’, and instead embrace the Infinite?  What if we can break our chains and bindings of ego and imagined separateness, and be united with Oneness, the Truth and Source of everything?  It seems so distant, yet is so very near…

All it takes is a little awe of Hashem.

Our little bird will soar


–The Messenger Bird


*Based on Tanya, Likutei Amarim, chapter 41