Standing before Hashem with feelings of awe


Sefer Vayikra is the only book in Tanach where we find the expression, v’yarata m’elokecha (“and you shall have awe for your G-d”). It appears three times in Parashat Behar and twice in Parashat Kedoshim:

1) You shall not curse a deaf person. You shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person, and you shall have awe for your G-d. I am Hashem. (19:14)

2) You shall rise before a venerable person and you shall respect the elderly, and you shall have awe for your G-d. I am Hashem. (19:32)

3) And you shall not wrong, one man his fellow Jew, and you shall have awe for your G-d, for I am Hashem, your G-d. (25:17)

4) You shall not take from him interest or increase, and you shall have awe for your G-d, and let your brother live with you. (25:36)

5) You shall not work him with rigor, and you shall have awe for your G-d. (25:33)

Our five verses refer respectively to: the prohibition of purposely misleading someone to your own financial advantage (lifnei ivare), the obligation to rise before and treat the elderly with respect (mipnei saivah takum), the injunction against vexing your fellow Jew through painful words (ona’at devarim), the ban against charging interest to a fellow Jew (rivet) and the sanction against mistreating a Jewish slave by forcing he or she to perform worthless and unpleasant work (avodah b’farech).

Although at first glance, these mitzvot seem to be disconnected, Rashi, basing himself upon the Sifra, the halachic Midrash to Sefer Vayikra, teaches us that v’yarata m’elokecha links these pasukim closely together.

Rashi maintains that since each of the actions referenced in our pasukim is indiscernible by people, their underlying intentions remain unknown to observers. Therefore, only the active party knows the truth as to whether or not they were performed for the benefit of others or to their detriment. Nothing, however, is hidden from the Almighty, including our very thoughts. As such, one must be continuously in awe of the Master of the Universe and meticulous in his/her mitzvot observance.

In his trenchant analysis of our verses, the great Chasidic rebbe, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, known as the Sefat Emet after the name of his commentary on the Torah, expands upon Rashi’s gloss with a profound insight into the power of mitzvah actions to engender yirat Hashem:

“It is obvious that through awe [of G-d] one is able to properly fulfill those matters that are indiscernible by others. [What is less evident,] however, is that these mitzvot which are solely contingent upon one’s private intentions, will, through their proper performance, enable one to acquire awe [of the Almighty].This is the case, since when each mitzvah is fulfilled, it alters a person’s actions in a positive fashion.

“As such, these mitzvot that are contingent upon a person’s innermost thoughts, [when performed correctly,] will repair [any negativity that lurks] in the mind of the one [who performs such a commandment]. So, too, did I hear from my teacher and rebbe [the Chidushei HaRim] on the verse, ‘And you shall not wrong, one man his fellow Jew, and you shall have awe for your G-d, for I am Hashem, your G-d’.” (Vayikra 25:17)

As he noted, through punctiliously refraining from vexing one’s fellow Jew, one will merit [the characteristic of] awe before the Almighty.

May our heartfelt fulfillment of Hashem’s mitzvot lead us to awe before Him, bringing us ever closer to His holy Torah. V’chane yihi ratzon.