Haftaras Noach

In this week’s haftarah, Yeshayah tells the Jewish People (Yeshayah 54:14): “Establish yourself through righteousness, distance yourself from oppression and do not fear.” In Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaYirah, chapter 1, the Maggid brings this exhortation into his discussion of fear of Hashem.
In describing the ideal form of fear of Hashem, the Maggid starts by quoting Mishlei 2:1-5:
My child: if you accept My words, and store up My commandments within yourself, making your ears attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding: if only you call out to understanding, and lift up your voice to discernment – if you seek it out as [you would] for silver, and search for it as for hidden treasure – then you will understand fear of Hashem and find knowledge of God.
The Maggid raises two questions about this passage. First, the Mishnah in Avos 3:11 seems to present an opposite teaching. The passage above indicates that wisdom and knowledge are prerequisites to fear of Hashem. On the other hand, the Mishnah in Avos says: “With anyone whose fear of sin precedes his wisdom, his wisdom endures, but with anyone whose wisdom precedes his fear of sin, his wisdom does not endure.” This teaching indicates that fear of Hashem must precede the pursuit of wisdom. How do we resolve the apparent conflict? Second, what does Shlomo HaMelech mean when he speaks of finding “knowledge of God”? We cannot comprehend Hashem’s nature, so what is Shlomo saying?
The Maggid explains that there are two types of fear of Hashem. A person may fear Hashem because he recognizes that Hashem has total control over his fate, for good or for bad. He therefore keeps the mitzvos to gain reward and refrains from sin to avoid punishment. But the ideal form of fear of Hashem is that engendered by awe of Hashem’s greatness, where a person internalizes the fact that Hashem is infinitely lofty, and he is utterly humbled – to the point of shamefacedness (בושה) – in His Presence. It is like the feeling a one has in the presence of an exceptionally wise and saintly person – one is afraid to approach him, on account of his striking intellectual and moral stature, which makes him worthy of lavish praise. In this vein, in the Song of the Sea (Shemos 15:11), the Jewish People describe Hashem as “awesome in praise” (נורא תהילות) – He is awesome on account of His infinite capabilities and supremely noble traits, which make Him worthy of boundless praise (cf. Ramban ad loc.). Thus, in Shemos 20:17, Moshe tells the Jewish People that Hashem revealed Himself at Sinai with a staggering display of power “so that fear of Him should be upon your faces, and you shall not sin.” The Gemara in Nedarim 20a explains that Moshe is speaking of is shamefacedness. We can read Moshe’s statement [homiletically] as telling us the following: Even if we are free of sin and are certain that we are not at risk of punishment, nonetheless the fear of Hashem – in the sense of awe – should be on our faces.
Thus, in Tehillim 96:9-10 it is written: “Tremble before Him, everyone on earth. … Indeed (אף), the world is set firm so it cannot falter.” This verse hints to us that even if the world were arranged so that everything endured continually without ever buckling or suffering damage, we should bear the fear of Hashem on our faces on account of His glory [the word אף can also mean even]. Tehillim 34:10 conveys a similar message. David HaMelech declares: “Fear Hashem, O His holy ones, for there is no lack for those who fear Him.” The Hebrew word כי in this verse, which in the literal rendering means for, also bears the meaning of when. We can thus render the verse homiletically as follows: “Fear Hashem, O His holy ones, even when there is no lack for those who fear Him.” We can thus interpret David’s words as saying that even when we have everything we desire and suffer no lack, we should fear Hashem because of His powers and His nobility. The truly wise choose the path of Torah and mitzvos because they see that it is noble. As David HaMelech puts it in Tehillim 12:7: “Hashem’s words are pure words.” And they avoid sin because they consider it abominable, rather than because they wish to escape punishment. As it is written (ibid. 97:10): “O you who love Hashem, hate evil!” This is the message behind the verse from our haftarah: “Establish yourself through righteousness, distance yourself from oppression and do not fear.” Yeshayah is telling us that we should distance ourselves from oppressive conduct because we consider it vile, rather than out of fear of the punishment we may get for oppressing others.
But to attain the wisdom needed to reach the higher level of fear of Hashem, one must start with the lower level. This is what the Mishnah in Avos means when it teaches that fear of sin is a prerequisite to wisdom. Fear of punishment for sin paves the way for a person to stride the path of Torah, mitzvos, and good deeds. And then the door to the realm of wisdom opens for him, and he can enter and proceed to its innermost region. Immersion in wisdom leads a person to appreciate the sublimity and radiance of Hashem’s Presence. This is what Shlomo HaMelech means in the passage from Mishlei that we quoted, where he teaches that wisdom leads to fear of Hashem. By “knowledge of God,” Shlomo means recognition of Hashem’s greatness, through which a person becomes filled with awe of Hashem. He is then led to cling to Hashem and His Torah. He declares, as Tehillim 73:28 puts it: “Nearness to Hashem is what I find good.” Of such a person it is written (ibid. 112:1): “Praiseworthy is the man who fears Hashem, who greatly desires His commandments.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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