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Remember what Amalek did to you …and he killed among you all the weaklings at the rear when you were faint and exhausted and he did not fear God. … you shall wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heaven – you shall not forget. (Devarim  25:17-19) 

The above posuk instructs us to wipe out any trace of the Amalekie nation. The Torah records how they took advantage of our weak physical condition in the desert and attacked us. The commentators note that although there have been many nations throughout history that have actively attempted to destroy us, Amalek is the only nation that we are commanded to thoroughly obliterate. This is because the Torah adds in its description of them that “he (Amalek) did not fear God.”

We may ask, is the lack of fear of Heaven enough of a reason to obliterate a whole nation including women and children? In parshas Eikev, Moshe Rabbanu instructs the Jewish people “What Does Hashem your God ask of you but to [simply] fear Hashem your God” (Devarim 10:12). On this posuk the Gemara wonders, is fear of Heaven a simple matter? The Gemara concludes, yes, for Moshe it was a simple matter but for us it is indeed very difficult. From the Gemara’s question and answer we learn that the attainment of fear of heaven even for the Jewish people is difficult, all the more so for the Gentiles. Why then are we commanded to destroy the Amalekies just because they do not possess fear of heaven?

The Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh we recite a blessing for the new month. In this blessing we ask for various things including fear of heaven. If we take a close look at the blessing we will notice that we repeat the request for fear of heaven. The commentators are perplexed as to why this is so. They explain that there are two types of fear of heaven. The first is called “fear of punishment.” This refers to the fear an individual has for the consequences and ramifications of violating the commandments of Hashem. The second type of fear is called “fear of exaltedness.” This is a higher level of fear. As a person comes to recognize the greatness and grandeur of Hashem he is inspired to fear Hashem, “just for sake of fearing Him.” This type of fear is completely unrelated to any fear of punishment.

The first time we request fear of heaven we mention it together with fear of sin. This connection teaches us that we request here “fear of punishment.” The second mention of fear of heaven is said in connection with love of Torah. This connection teaches us that we request at this juncture “fear of exaltedness.” Such fear is only attainable through recognizing the greatness of Hashem, which can be fully realized through intense Torah study.

It is noteworthy that in our parsha regarding Amalek the posuk says that they were not fearful of “Elokim.” Elokim is the name of Hashem that alludes to Hashem’s attribute of justice. In parshas Eikev when Moshe tells the Jewish people “What Does Hashem your God ask of you but to [simply] to fear Hashem your God,” here the name of Hashem used is the Tetragramaton, i.e., yud key vav kei, which alludes to Hashem’s attribute of mercy.

We may suggest that the basic type of fear necessary for the existence of the world, both for Jew and gentile alike is “fear of punishment.” Without this type of fear society will cease to exist. The Mishna in Avos says that if not for fear [of the government] one would swallow his friend alive. If there is no fear of violation of civil laws then human beings cannot interact with each other. Indeed, some commentators interpret this Mishna as referring to the fear of Hashem and not the fear of a secular government.

The posuk says that the nation of Amalek did not posses fear of Elokim. This may be interpreted as they did not posses even a spark of “fear of justice” which is synonymous with “fear of punishment” They represented a threat not just to the Jewish people but also to the entire world. Thus, the Torah says that they must be utterly destroyed without mercy.

However, for the Jewish people Hashem has set higher standards. In addition to the basic fear of Elokim, which we have interpreted as “fear of punishment,” Hashem also asks that we fear “Hashem.” This name refers to the attribute of mercy. When there is mercy there is no punishment. Hashem is asking that we attain “fear of His exaltedness.” It is regarding this lofty type of fear that the Gemara refers to as no simple matter. Yet, through diligence in Torah study we do have the ability to rise above that nations of the world and attain this unique type of fear as well.

Perhaps this may also explain why we refer to fear of Hashem with the expression “fear of heaven.” If we would mention Hashem’s name directly we would be forced to choose a name that would emphasize either fear of punishment or exaltedness. Because each type of fear complements the other, Chazal cleverly alluded to the combination of both by coining the expression “fear of heaven.”

May we merit the fulfillment of the posuk “And all the nations of the earth will see that the name of Hashem is upon you and they will fear you.”


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Efraim Levine 5761/2001