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Being Complete with G-d Doesn’t Mean Having to be Perfect

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Que Sera Sera[i] was a popular song in the late 1950s that my mom and dad z”l would often sing to us when we were young, whenever we worried too much about some future test or event. The lyrics describe all manner of concerns of a young child and then as an adult about what the future might be. In response to all the questions, the parent answers with the same refrain of:

Que Sera Sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera

In the supercharged, hyper-partisan atmosphere of this presidential year, many are asking the same basic question of what will be; what does the future hold? Despite all the pious pronouncements of pundits and their prognostications, the answer is ultimately, Que Sera Sera, whatever will be, will be.

Yet, as we enter the holiest of days, Yom Kippur and pray that we are all inscribed and sealed with a good new year, it’s hard not to feel some trepidation. What does the future hold and is there anything, today, that we can do about it? The Nesaneh Tokef prayer we recited with such fervor on Rosh Hashanah and will do so again on Yom Kippur provides an answer. Loosely based on the Talmudic discussion of the matter[ii], it declares that repentance, prayer and charity can avert the severity of the decree. In essence we can transform ourselves into a different person from the one who was the subject of the original decree, by changing our actions and patterns of behavior through performing the Mitzvot.

One of the Mitzvot recorded in the Bible[iii] is the commandment that a person should be “Tamim” with G-d. But what does that mean and, furthermore, how does a person comply with the commandment? There are a number of different interpretations of the term and perspectives on how to fulfill this obligation.

The Talmud[iv] views the commandment in the context of the preceding Biblical verses prohibiting divination in order to predict the future. It records a person should have absolute faith in G-d and accept G-d’s justice. As the Rashbam[v] explains, this means being secure and trusting in G-d, no matter how unpredictable or uncertain the future may be.

Onkelos translates the verse as requiring that a person be wholeheartedly in fear of G-d. This interpretation is somewhat of an outlier, among the traditional Bible commentators. I can’t help but wonder is this what Onkelos actually intended to say? After all, fear is, generally, a poor motivator. It usually is best employed as a temporary means of stopping a person from doing something wrong. It typically does not have a lasting duration, because it wears off. In practice, it is not a reliable method for causing someone to do something positive, other than to escape the source of the fear. Is it any wonder that the Torah also speaks of the obligation to love G-d[vi]? Love is an extremely powerful motivator that is sustainable.

While the Bible speaks of “Yirah”[vii], which is sometimes translated as fear, a better translation might be awe of G-d. The root of the Hebrew word Yirah is “Re’eh”, meaning to see. According to Maimonides[viii], a person must reflect and come to realize (i.e.: see) how small he or she is in relation to the creator of the universe. It is a humbling experience. The acceptance of the absolute sovereignty of G-d and, therefore, by extension, God’s commandments, the Mitzvot, is the essence of Yirat HaShem (being in awe of G-d). We can then deepen our understanding and appreciation of G-d’s wondrous and great deeds, creations and infinite wisdom, which leads to love, praise, and glorification of G-d.

The Sifre[ix] interprets the Biblical verse to mean; whole shall you be with G-d. It notes when a person is whole, his or her lot will be with G-d; citing the example of King David, who asserted he was B’Tumi (whole) and,........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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