By Rabbi Dovid Markel
In Parshat Eikev is expressed the bottom line of what the Almighty demands of the Jewish People. The verse (Devarim, 10:12-13) states expressing Moshe’s address to the Children of Israel:
“And now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear the Lord, your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship the Lord, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes, which I command you this day, for your good.”
While the verse intimates that G-d is merely asking for very little from man, it seems that the demands that follow are considerably steep. For essentially what the verse seems to be saying is that G-d demands everything from us, to fear Him, follow Him, love Him with our entire being, and to do all of the commandments.
Indeed, far from being a small request, fear of heaven is considered a treasure of G-d in the verse (Yeshayahu 33:6) “fear of the Lord, that is his treasure”—conveying that it exceptionally valuable. Indeed, the Talmud (Megilla, 25a) derives from the above verse that G-d asks that we fear him: “Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven.” That being the case how can it be considered inconsequential?
Additionally, the Talmud there expresses “Are we to infer from this that fear is a small thing? — Yes; for Moshe our teacher it was a small thing.” On this though the Tanya (Ch. 42) asks: “the answer is incomprehensible, for it is written: “What does the Lord require of you?” [not of Moshe].”
While Tanya answers: “That each and every soul of the house of Israel contains within it something of the quality of our teacher Moshe,” and is therefore can attain this level, this does not seem to suffice in answering the question. For, notwithstanding that each Jew has a spark of Moshe inside of him, it is surely deeply embedded in him, and not easily attainable.
However, in truth what G-d asks from us is indeed insignificant. For no matter the action of man, he is infinitesimally worthless in relation to an infinite G-d. If man were to truly attempt to serve G-d he’d quickly realize that he is unable to bridge the infinite chasm between finitude and infinity.
What G-d asks of man is something infinitesimally small—that he should choose to connect with Him. For in the scheme of things, in the paradox between G-d’s knowledge and orchestrating all that is, the choice of man—no matter the rubric within Jewish thought to answer this question—is extremely small.
In contrast to the statement of the Kotzker Rebbe, that G-d is found wherever you let him in, the opposite can be said, that the only place where G-d is not found, is in a person’s ego and imagination—because in reality there is nothing outside of Him.
Yet, concurrently the choice of man to fear G-d is His greatest treasure. Not only does free choice proclaim, that no matter the determinism of the world, there is one place that is devoid of him, but more so, the greatest creation in the entirety of G-d’s creation is man’s choice. That G-d created an entity that is not completely enveloped in the reality of his own nothingness.
This then is the paradox of man’s free choice. On one hand G-d asks from us, the one thing that we have, to connect with Him on our volition; an act that seems small and inconsequential, but on the other it is G-d’s greatest treasure, and in fact the purpose of all of creation—that man on his accord should choose to be one with the Almighty, to fear Him, follow Him, love Him with our entire being, and to do all of the commandments!