Liberal Judaism & Piety: The Challenge of God Consciousness

P(יב) וְעַתָּה֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מָ֚ה יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ שֹׁאֵ֖ל מֵעִמָּ֑ךְ כִּ֣י אִם־לְ֠יִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ לָלֶ֤כֶת בְּכָל־דְּרָכָיו֙ וּלְאַהֲבָ֣ה אֹת֔וֹ וְלַֽעֲבֹד֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃ (יג) לִשְׁמֹ֞ר אֶת־מִצְוֺ֤ת יְהוָה֙ וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתָ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם לְט֖וֹב לָֽךְ׃

(12) And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you? Only this: to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His paths, to love Him, and to serve/worship the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, (13) keeping the Lord's commandments and His laws, which I command you today, for your good.

ואמר רבי חנינא הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים שנאמר (דברים י, יב) ועתה ישראל מה ה' אלהיך שואל מעמך כי אם ליראה אטו יראת שמים מילתא זוטרתא היא והא"ר חנינא משום ר' שמעון בן יוחי אין לו להקב"ה בבית גנזיו אלא אוצר של יראת שמים שנאמר (ישעיהו לג, ו) יראת ה' היא אוצרו אין לגבי משה מילתא זוטרתא היא דאמר ר' חנינא משל לאדם שמבקשים ממנו כלי גדול ויש לו דומה עליו ככלי קטן קטן ואין לו דומה עליו ככלי גדול:

And Rabbi Ḥanina said: Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven. As it is stated: “What does the Lord your God ask of you? Only this: to fear” (Deuteronomy 10:12). Is fear of Heaven a minor matter? Didn’t Rabbi Ḥanina say in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: The Holy One, Blessed be He, has nothing in his treasury other than a treasure of fear of Heaven, as it is stated: “Fear of the Lord is his treasure” (Isaiah 33:6). Indeed, for Moses it is a minor matter. As Rabbi Ḥanina stated: It is comparable to one who is asked for a large vessel and he has one, it seems to him like a small vessel; a small vessel, and he does not have one, it seems to him like a large vessel.


  1. What does it mean that all is God's hands except for yirat shamayim?
  2. How is this learned from the quoted verse?
  3. Why is it NOT a minor matter for us, even though it was a little thing for Moses?

(ג) אַנְטִיגְנוֹס אִישׁ סוֹכוֹ קִבֵּל מִשִּׁמְעוֹן הַצַּדִּיק. הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אַל תִּהְיוּ כַעֲבָדִים הַמְשַׁמְּשִׁין אֶת הָרַב עַל מְנָת לְקַבֵּל פְּרָס, אֶלָּא הֱווּ כַעֲבָדִים הַמְשַׁמְּשִׁין אֶת הָרַב שֶׁלֹּא עַל מְנָת לְקַבֵּל פְּרָס, וִיהִי מוֹרָא שָׁמַיִם עֲלֵיכֶם:

(3) Antigonos, man of Sokho, received from Shimon the Righteous. He would say, "Do not be as servants who are serving the master in order to receive a reward, rather be as servants who are serving the master not in order to receive a reward; and may the fear of Heaven be upon you."


  1. If a servant isn't serving the master in order to receive a reward, then why is he or she doing it? Why is this better?
  2. How does this connect to "Fear of Heaven"?

(כו) מִֽי־יִתֵּ֡ן וְהָיָה֩ לְבָבָ֨ם זֶ֜ה לָהֶ֗ם לְיִרְאָ֥ה אֹתִ֛י וְלִשְׁמֹ֥ר אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֺתַ֖י כָּל־הַיָּמִ֑ים לְמַ֨עַן יִיטַ֥ב לָהֶ֛ם וְלִבְנֵיהֶ֖ם לְעֹלָֽם׃

(26) May they always be of such mind, to fear Me and follow all My commandments, that it may go well with them and with their children forever!

(כד) וַיְצַוֵּ֣נוּ יְהוָ֗ה לַעֲשׂוֹת֙ אֶת־כָּל־הַחֻקִּ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה לְיִרְאָ֖ה אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ לְט֥וֹב לָ֙נוּ֙ כָּל־הַיָּמִ֔ים לְחַיֹּתֵ֖נוּ כְּהַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃

(24) Then the LORD commanded us to observe all these laws, to fear the LORD our God, for our lasting good and for our survival, as is now the case.


  1. Is yirah a pre-reqisite or a byproduct of commitment to Torah?

(א) הַ֥לְלוּ יָ֨הּ ׀ אַשְׁרֵי־אִ֭ישׁ יָרֵ֣א אֶת־יְהוָ֑ה בְּ֝מִצְוֺתָ֗יו חָפֵ֥ץ מְאֹֽד׃

(1) Hallelujah. Happy is the man who fears the LORD, who is ardently devoted to His commandments.


  1. Given its relation to a commitment to Torah, what are different ways of understanding what yirat shamayim could be?
  2. How can fear of God be something that makes one happy?

(א) אַל יֹאמַר אָדָם הֲרֵינִי עוֹשֶׂה מִצְוֹת הַתּוֹרָה וְעוֹסֵק בְּחָכְמָתָהּ כְּדֵי שֶׁאֲקַבֵּל כָּל הַבְּרָכוֹת הַכְּתוּבוֹת בָּהּ אוֹ כְּדֵי שֶׁאֶזְכֶּה לְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, וְאֶפְרשׁ מִן הָעֲבֵרוֹת שֶׁהִזְהִירָה תּוֹרָה מֵהֶן כְּדֵי שֶׁאֶנָּצֵל מִן הַקְּלָלוֹת הַכְּתוּבוֹת בַּתּוֹרָה אוֹ כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא אֶכָּרֵת מֵחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. אֵין רָאוּי לַעֲבֹד אֶת ה' עַל הַדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה, שֶׁהָעוֹבֵד עַל דֶּרֶךְ זֶה הוּא עוֹבֵד מִיִּרְאָה וְאֵינָהּ מַעֲלַת הַנְּבִיאִים וְלֹא מַעֲלַת הַחֲכָמִים. וְאֵין עוֹבְדִים ה' עַל דֶּרֶךְ זֶה אֶלָּא עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַקְּטַנִּים שֶׁמְּחַנְּכִין אוֹתָן לַעֲבֹד מִיִּרְאָה עַד שֶׁתִּרְבֶּה דַּעְתָּן וְיַעַבְדוּ מֵאַהֲבָה:

(ב) הָעוֹבֵד מֵאַהֲבָה עוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה וּבַמִּצְוֹת וְהוֹלֵךְ בִּנְתִיבוֹת הַחָכְמָה לֹא מִפְּנֵי דָּבָר בָּעוֹלָם וְלֹא מִפְּנֵי יִרְאַת הָרָעָה וְלֹא כְּדֵי לִירַשׁ הַטּוֹבָה אֶלָּא עוֹשֶׂה הָאֱמֶת מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא אֱמֶת וְסוֹף הַטּוֹבָה לָבוֹא בִּגְלָלָהּ. וּמַעֲלָה זוֹ הִיא מַעֲלָה גְּדוֹלָה מְאֹד וְאֵין כָּל חָכָם זוֹכֶה לָהּ. וְהִיא מַעֲלַת אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ שֶׁקְּרָאוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אוֹהֲבוֹ לְפִי שֶׁלֹּא עָבַד אֶלָּא מֵאַהֲבָה. וְהִיא הַמַּעֲלָה שֶׁצִּוָּנוּ בָּהּ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עַל יְדֵי משֶׁה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים ו ה) "וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ". וּבִזְמַן שֶׁיֶּאֱהֹב אָדָם אֶת ה' אַהֲבָה הָרְאוּיָה מִיָּד יַעֲשֶׂה כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת מֵאַהֲבָה:

(ג) וְכֵיצַד הִיא הָאַהֲבָה הָרְאוּיָה. הוּא שֶׁיֹּאהַב אֶת ה' אַהֲבָה גְּדוֹלָה יְתֵרָה עַזָּה מְאֹד עַד שֶׁתְּהֵא נַפְשׁוֹ קְשׁוּרָה בְּאַהֲבַת ה' וְנִמְצָא שׁוֹגֶה בָּהּ תָּמִיד כְּאִלּוּ חוֹלֶה חֳלִי הָאַהֲבָה שֶׁאֵין דַּעְתּוֹ פְּנוּיָה מֵאַהֲבַת אוֹתָהּ אִשָּׁה וְהוּא שׁוֹגֶה בָּהּ תָּמִיד בֵּין בְּשִׁבְתּוֹ בֵּין בְּקוּמוֹ בֵּין בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁהוּא אוֹכֵל וְשׁוֹתֶה. יֶתֶר מִזֶּה תִּהְיֶה אַהֲבַת ה' בְּלֵב אוֹהֲבָיו שׁוֹגִים בָּהּ תָּמִיד כְּמוֹ שֶׁצִּוָּנוּ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ. וְהוּא שֶׁשְּׁלֹמֹה אָמַר דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל (שיר השירים ב ה) "כִּי חוֹלַת אַהֲבָה אָנִי". וְכָל שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים מָשָׁל הוּא לְעִנְיָן זֶה:

(1) Let no man say: "Behold, I perform the precepts of the Torah, and engage myself in its wisdom so that I will receive all the blessings described therein, or so that I will merit the life in the World to Come; and I will separate myself from the transgressions against which the Torah gave warning so that I will escape the curses described therein, or so that I will suffer excision from the life in the World to Come". It is improper to serve the Lord in such way, for whosoever serves the Lord in such way, he is a worshiper because of fear, which is neither the degree of the prophets nor the degree of the sages. And the Lord should not be worshiped that way, save only by ignorant men, women and infants who are trained to worship because of fear, until their knowledge increases when they will worship because of love.

(2) The worshiper because of love, engages himself in the study of the Torah and the observance of precepts and follows the paths of wisdom on no account in the world, neither for fear of evil nor in order to inherit the good; but he does the true thing because it is true, and in the end the good comes because thereof. That degree is a great degree, indeed and not every scholar attains it; for such was the degree of Abraham our father, whom the Holy One, blessed is He! called His beloved, because he worshiped not, save because of love, and it is, furthermore, the degree concerning which the Holy One, blessed is He! commanded through Moses, saying: "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God" (Deut. 6.5); for, when man will love the Lord with a proper love, he will momentarily perform all of the commandments because of love.

(3) And what is the proper love? He shall love the Lord with an exceeding great and very strong love so that his soul be tied to the love of the Lord, finding himself in a constant tremor, as if he were suffering of lovesickness, when his mind is free because of love for that woman, being continuously agitated about her, whether he sitting down, or whether he is standing up, even when he is eating and drinking. More than this should the love for the Lord be in the heart of those who love him, meditating therein constantly, even as He commanded us: "With all thy heart and with all thy soul" (Ibid.). This is what Solomon allegorically said: "For I am love-sick" (Songs 2.5). And, the whole book, Song of Songs, is an allegory on this subject.

(ה) כָּל הָעוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה כְּדֵי לְקַבֵּל שָׂכָר אוֹ כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא תַּגִּיעַ עָלָיו פֻּרְעָנוּת הֲרֵי זֶה עוֹסֵק שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁמָהּ. וְכָל הָעוֹסֵק בָּהּ לֹא לְיִרְאָה וְלֹא לְקַבֵּל שָׂכָר אֶלָּא מִפְּנֵי אַהֲבַת אֲדוֹן כָּל הָאָרֶץ שֶׁצִּוָּה בָּהּ הֲרֵי זֶה עוֹסֵק בָּהּ לִשְׁמָהּ. וְאָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים לְעוֹלָם יַעֲסֹק אָדָם בַּתּוֹרָה וַאֲפִלּוּ שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁמָהּ שֶׁמִּתּוֹךְ שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁמָהּ בָּא לִשְׁמָהּ. לְפִיכָךְ כְּשֶׁמְּלַמְּדִין אֶת הַקְּטַנִּים וְאֶת הַנָּשִׁים וּכְלַל עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ אֵין מְלַמְּדִין אוֹתָן אֶלָּא לַעֲבֹד מִיִּרְאָה וּכְדֵי לְקַבֵּל שָׂכָר, עַד שֶׁתִּרְבֶּה דַּעְתָּן וְיִתְחַכְּמוּ חָכְמָה יְתֵרָה מְגַלִּים לָהֶם רָז זֶה מְעַט מְעַט וּמַרְגִּילִין אוֹתָן לְעִנְיָן זֶה בְּנַחַת עַד שֶׁיַּשִּׂיגוּהוּ וְיֵדְעוּהוּ וְיַעַבְדוּהוּ מֵאַהֲבָה:

(5) He who engages himself in the study of the Torah in order to receive a reward, or in order to prevent himself from being overtaken by punishment, is one who studies the Torah not for its own sake. But he who studies it neither because of fear nor because of reward, but because of love for the Lord of the whole earth Who commanded concerning it, is one who studies it for its own sake. Therefore when instructions are given to infants, to women and the ignorant in general, they should not be instructed save to worship because of fear, until their knowledge will increase, and they will became wise in wisdom, when this secret is revealed to them little by little, and get them acquainted with this subject slowly, until they will attain and know it, when they will serve Him because of Love.


  1. What is the relationship of yirah and ahavah?
  2. What seems to be Rambam's hierarchy of the motivation behind Torah commitment?


Questions for Further Conversation

  1. What makes yirah difficult for a modern Jew?
  2. How does Liberal Judaism respond to this? Is it effective?
  3. How does our culture relate to piety and to the pious?
  4. Does modern "God consciousness" lead to, or flow from, Torah commitment?