In this week’s parsha, regarding the makka of Barad (hail), it says something very interesting. Like many of the makkas, the makka of Barad had a condition within the makka. The condition was that anyone who came indoors or entered his livestock indoors was unaffected by the plague. Anything in the field would be destroyed, but if the Egyptians would heed the word of Moshe and enter themselves indoors, they would be saved.
The psukim then recount what actually happened during the plague. It says, “those who feared the word of Hashem chased his servants and livestock into the houses. And whoever was ‘Lo Sam Libo (did not place the words of HaShem on his heart), he left his servants out in the field.”
On the surface, these verses are hard to understand. In the first verse, it says that those who feared HaShem would enter their possessions indoors. Along these lines, the pasuk should have continued “and those who didn’t fear the word of HaShem left their possessions outside…” However, the pasuk doesn’t say this. Instead of saying “those who didn’t fear HaShem”, the pasuk says “those who didn’t place HaShem on their hearts…” What’s the meaning if this? Why not just say, “those who didn’t fear HaShem?
I heard one answer once from Rav Doniel Kalish (the menahel of Waterbury Yeshiva) which I would like to elaborate on. He said that an explanation in the pasuk is that the idea of not fearing HaShem doesn’t really exist. Deep down, there doesn’t exist a person who doesn’t have a little inkling of heavenly fear. Even the greatest atheists of our day have a fear of HaShem. The only difference is that they don’t place their hearts on that fear; they’re not in touch with it.
To illustrate this, there’s a famous parable which Rav Yisroel Salanter used to relate. (The following is not the exact mashal, but it’s similar). Picture the following scenario: One day, the Coca Cola company publicizes a serious mistake made at one of its manufacturing outlets. Approximately 200 cans of Coke had accidentally mixed with a small amount of a different liquid which would cause a minor stomachache if drunk. How many people would stop buying Coke that day? Even for that one day, how drastically would the sales of Coke drop? The company would go out of business! No one would buy it! But why? Do you know what the chances are of getting affected by those cans of Coke? On average, the Coca Cola company produces 100,000 cans of Coke in the UK alone! That’s millions of Coke worldwide! The chance of getting one of those 200 cans of coke are microscopic! And even if you do, all it would cause is a minor stomachache! How many people would stop drinking Coke, even though the chances of getting that can are so small?
Says R’ Yisrael, it’s the same thing with fearing HaShem. Even if a person hasn’t been studying in Yeshiva to know how we know all the truths of HaShem and the idea of reward and punishment, likely, on the tiny percent chance that all those Jewish Rabbis dating back to Mount Sinai know what they’re talking about, wouldn’t a person feel compelled to fear?
The reality is that everyone has this fear. It’s innate. The only thing is that people try so hard to not believe. They try hard not to see HaShem. Many modern-day scientists aren’t looking for truth; they’re looking for ways to have an excuse for not believing in G-d. Rav Kalish said over a story with one of the other rebbeim at his Yeshiva. The Rebbe had just experienced the birth of his first child, and in his extremely emotional state, he couldn’t help but look at the secular Israeli doctor and say, “did you see that?! How could you not be religious after seeing something like that!?!” To which the doctor replied to him, “I know. It’s really hard”. The doctor had a hard time not believing in HaShem, but because of his convictions, he was able to not place HaShem on his heart, thereby ignoring Him.
I think we see from here a very powerful idea. The idea of not fearing HaShem isn’t simply not feeling the fear; it’s not thinking about it. It’s removing the self from that emotion, by numbing yourself to it. That’s the way a person removes HaShem from his life. Yet we see from here another point. That just as a person combats fear of Heaven by not thinking about it, the only thing a person needs to do in order to acquire it is to actively think about it. One should think of HaShem wherever life takes him. And when he thinks of HaShem, when he brings down HaShem’s presence into his life, then he’ll undoubtedly acquire this trait of “fear of Heaven.”