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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Yitro

Nothing to Fear Including Fear Itself

In the aftermath of the Divine revelation at the giving of the Torah, Bnei Yisrael expressed their fear that exposure to such a fearful sight would kill them. Moshe allayed their fears, explaining that there were good reasons that Hashem wanted to expose them to His Presence.
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In the aftermath of the Divine revelation at the giving of the Torah, Bnei Yisrael expressed their fear that exposure to such a fearful sight would kill them. Moshe allayed their fears, explaining that there were good reasons that Hashem wanted to expose them to His Presence. The first reason is l’nasot etchem (to whose translation and explanation we will return). The second reason is "so that fear of Him shall be on your face, so that you shall not sin" (Shemot 20:17).

Netivot Shalom asks why the matter of fear is stressed at this momentous time, considering that love of Hashem is a higher level. The same question arises in regard to the commandment not to forget the revelation at Sinai ... "that you shall learn to fear Me" (Devarim 4:10).

The Netivot Shalom answers that although love of Hashem represents the higher level, the first stage in man’s relationship with Hashem is through fear. (Of course, fear is not limited to fear of punishment but very much includes awe.) As the famous pasuk says, "the beginning of wisdom is fear of Hashem" (Tehillim 111:10). This idea is often lost on people in an era of freedoms, but some relationships need a basis of deep respect to the point of fear or awe to thrive. There is no more loving relationship than the one between parents and children. Yet, when the navi told the story of the mini-revolt of David’s son, Adoniyahu, he introduced it with the following veiled criticism of David. "He [David] had never saddened him [Adoniyahu] by saying, ‘Why did you do such?’" (Melachim I, 1:7). Only after the relationship is set so that the participants’ relative positions are clear can one focus on building closeness and love without abuses.

Let us return to the first reason for the awesome revelation (l’nasot). Rashi relates it to a nes, meaning a banner. In this case, Hashem used it to display Bnei Yisrael’s greatness, by honoring them to see His Presence. The Rambam says that it is related to nisayon in the manner of a test. Now that Bnei Yisrael were fortified with an experience that entrenched awe of Hashem within the national psyche, they were ready to be tested in various ways. The Ramban also focuses on the term nisayon but takes it in a different direction- having experience (as in Modern Hebrew). The Ramban explains that because of the exposure to Hashem, the nation would be used to the spiritual heights that would be the foundation of a life of sanctity.

Bnei Yisrael did not stay at Sinai but had to move on to new challenges. However, nationally, they received there the "shot in the arm" to keep them honest in their belief and their resolve to maintain their spirituality. It is, likewise, important for the individual to have times and experiences that help form a healthy approach to avodat Hashem. May these formative events always be positive ones, as our forefathers experienced at Sinai, and not require harsh lessons, such as those gained during the preceding slavery.
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