It amazes me how palpable the Divine providence is in Eretz Yisrael. During my trip there recently, I felt Hashem guiding me with each step. On my first day, my cousin Aviva called me out of the blue, thinking I might be interested to know that Rabbi Binyamin Finkel — otherwise known as Rabbi Binyamin “Hatzadik” — was having minyanim in his apartment, since he was feeling weak. By Shacharis the next day, my son and I found ourselves there, delaying our plans to see Tzfas and Meron up north. My cousin had called me again to confirm I could see the Rebbe after the Shacharis minyan, and I felt Hashem was presenting me with this golden opportunity.
The morning that we went to Rabbi Finkel’s apartment was special. We got up early and took a taxi from Har Nof to Givat Shaul. Rabbi Finkel’s walls were totally lined with shelves filled with seforim. My son and I watched in admiration how the great tzaddik davened. My son remarked how Reb Binyamin was so absorbed, focused and happy while he davened. After Shacharis, we introduced ourselves to Reb Binyamin and I asked for a bracha for my son, whose bar mitzvah was coming up in two months. He gave him a beautiful bracha and then told us something that made a deep impression on both of us. He said people are always happy to earn money and they work very hard to do so, even when it’s difficult. But people realize that to accomplish their goal of earning money, there are hardships to endure, so it’s worth the effort. The same is true in performing mitzvos and learning Torah. Many times, it’s hard and it has its challenges, but the rewards are plentiful. Reb Binyamin smiled ear to ear, saying, “We have to always realize we are so lucky to perform mitzvos. They are the greatest gift – they connect us with Hashem!”
This idea is expressed in a puzzling pasuk in Parshas Eikev. Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael, “All that Hashem is asking of you is to fear Him.” Moshe makes it sound as if fear of Hashem (Yiras Hashem) is an easy goal. Fear of Hashem – to always be cognizant Hashem is watching and to have a true sense of being one with Hashem at every moment of the day – is not so easy at all! Indeed, fear of Hashem is fundamental in Judaism, as reflected in the first prayer of the morning, Modeh Ani (thanking Hashem for another day), which concludes with the words, “Reishis chochma yiras Hashem” — the first step to wisdom is fear of Hashem. The Shulchan Aruch also opens with this concept, quoting the words of King David, “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi tamid” — a person must always be cognizant that Hashem is with him every moment. It’s easy to say, but not so easy to do. So why does Moshe refer to Yiras Hashem as something easy? Indeed, the Gemara Brachos asks this question.
Sefer Tzror Hamor gives a phenomenal explanation. If we look at the next pasuk, it says all that Hashem asks from us is “for your good.” People are willing to do things which are difficult and challenging when they know there’s a great benefit at the end! People work long hours, travel to remote locations and are apart from their families to earn money. People grunt and sweat at the gym for exercise. Yet, they don’t mind doing all these things, since they know it’s for their direct benefit.
That is what Moshe was telling Bnei Yisrael. It’s true that developing a true sense of Yiras Hashem is not easy, but it won’t be so hard if we truly and deeply realize it’s for own our good. It means spending time thinking about the concept, internalizing it and making sure that our actions match our noble thoughts.
Meeting and speaking with Reb Binyamin Finkel, with his tremendous joy in davening and performing mitzvos, provided me with a living role model to help me internalize the concept that performing mitzvos with joy, fearing Hashem and being cognizant of his presence at all times, is all for our own good.