Yir’at HaShem (33a-33b)

For a good part of the day I have attempted to depict God’s “treasure” which is considered to be the collected merit of  humanity’s “Yir’at HaShem” (fear of God). The context is today’s Gemara responding to a Mishnah about those who recite “unacceptable additions” to the Shemoneh Esrei.

According to the Mishnah, three additions are considered unacceptable:

– adding “You are so compassionate and gracious that Your mercy extends to the bird’s nest” (a reference to Devarim 22:6-7 where we are commanded to shoo away a mother bird before taking away the baby birds).

– adding “For the goodness that You accomplish on our behalf is Your name remembered”

– and saying twice “We gave thanks”

Regarding the third, the Gemara explains that we shouldn’t say “we give thanks” twice as it might suggest that we are praying to more than one deity. Regarding the second, the Gemara explains that by referencing only the good that God does we forget our obligation to thank God for everything, the good *and* the bad. And lastly, regarding the first, the Gemara states that by adding the statement that “Your mercy extends to the bird’s nest” we incorrectly transform a commandment for us into an act of mercy by God.

One conclusion is that God does not need all of this. God does not need our excessive praises, nor our oversimplified understandings of God’s ways. And to explain this further the Gemara records a teaching of Rabbi Chanina who  said:

‘Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven’ as it states ‘And now, Israel, what does HaShem, your God, ask of you, but merely to fear Hashem your God.’

The Gemara asks whether the fear of heaven is a “small matter” and R’ Chanina says:

“in the name of R’ Shimon ben Yochai: The Holy One Blessed is the Holy One, has nothing in his treasure house other than a store of the merit of fear of heaven, as the verse states ‘the fear of Hashem that is His treasure”. 

It was this treasure trove that I was trying to depict all day. I imagined a treasure chest filled with jewels that might represent the accumulated merit of humanity.

The first chest was too heavy looking and the next chest had odd proportions. The third chest looked fine enough, but seemed to trivialize the concept and the feeling that had been evoked. I started from scratch, switching from rigid materials to those that might render the feeling in a more flowing way. It all felt forced. The treasure chest ended up looking like a coffin and that missed the point entirely

After all, the accumulation of merit on our behalf is meant to give us life rather than deaden our souls. We are asked , even commanded, to behold the marvel of creation and be grateful for it. This “Yir’at HaShem’ is no simple scaredy cat fear … it is nothing less than the Heschel’s “radical amazement”.

How could I ever depict that?

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This entry was posted in Daf Yomi, Hevruta study, Talmud. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Yir’at HaShem (33a-33b)

  1. neillitt says:

    The human is an amazing creation who can apprehend what she cannot depict!

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