Parashat Ekev

Empowering Fear

Moshe teaches the people that their achievement of true fear of God will allow them to not fear any enemy.

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What does it truly mean to "fear" Hashem? It denotes being aware constantly of His greatness, and of the fact that nothing escapes His sight. It means that our awe and fear of Hashem should supersede all other apprehension and nothing else--neither embarrassment nor power, neither pain nor death--should frighten us. Thus, the fear of anyone or anything other than Hashem detracts from the fear one ought to have for the Almighty.

Actually, the essence of this observation of Haketav V'hakabbalah is to be found in the brief comment of the Ibn Ezra (12th century Spain) on the words, "You shall not be intimidated/frightened before them:"

Be frightened only of Hashem, Who is "a God Who is mighty and feared."  Only the fear of the Almighty is a fear to be cultivated.

Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush, 19th century) develops this idea still further. First, it is important to note the different words for fear used in this passage: y-r-a and 'a-r-tz. Earlier in Devarim (1:29), Malbim differentiates between these two terms. He states that: y-r-a is fear that focuses on the other's power; while 'a-r-tz is fear generated by a feeling of one's own weakness and inadequacy.

We can apply this distinction to our passage, as well. At first, the people might be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the nations, which would result in yir'ah. But, they are told, do not be awestruck by their prowess: Perhaps you might say in your heart, "These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?" You shall not be afraid (lo tira) of them. 

After all, Egypt's superior numbers and might were no match for Hashem. In the same manner, "so, will Hashem, your God, do to all the nations before whom you are afraid" (yarei). When you call this to mind, not only will you not be terrified by them (y-r-a); you will not even feel inferior to them: You shall not be intimidated/frightened (lo ta'arotz) before them.

Finally, it would seem that Malbim has a different understanding of the word ki in verse 21, translating it as "when" instead of "because": You will not be intimidated/ frightened before them,--ki--when [you realize that] Hashem, your God, [Who] is in your midst, [is] a God Who is mighty and feared.

Your fear of Hashem will enable you to overcome your fear of them. By way of analogy, Malbim explains that if a person is pursued by a lion, he is not concerned about a bee that might sting him! A great and powerful fear extinguishes a lesser fear. Similarly, Moshe instructs the Children of Israel to immerse themselves in the fear of Hashem so that that fear will overpower their apprehension and anxiety vis-a-vis the nations.

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.