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When No One Else Will Ever Know

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The expression “…and thou shalt fear your God…” follows three different commandments in Parshat Behar, namely: The command to ensure one does not hurt another with hurtful words or by giving bad advice, the command not to charge interest to a fellow Jew and the command not to abuse a slave with unnecessary labor. Why does the Torah specifically conclude these three commandments with the expression “…and thou shalt not fear your God…?”

Rashi explains that the expression “…and thou shalt fear your God…” is used to indicate a scenario where only the person themselves will know that they are transgressing the law. No one else will ever know. One may give a friend advice that seems reasonable and comes across as genuine but internally one intends to benefit from the situation in a way that is not apparent to others.

One may charge interest by acting on behalf of a non-Jewish person when in truth this is simply a front. One may work a slave under the pretense that the work is necessary when in fact one knows that simply doing this to overwork the slave.

In all these scenarios no one else will ever know that the person is transgressing the law, although the person him/herself is of course fully aware of his/her internal deceit. Therefore the Torah reminds the person that although no other humans are aware of the transgression, God is omnipresent.

We are instructed to bring to our consciousness the omnipresent quality of God and therefore ensure that we act with pure intentions and do not transgress the commandments. Fear of God really means living with awareness of God being constantly aware and present.

This is no simple task as the following Talmudic passage illustrates: “When Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai fell ill, his diciples went in to visit him. They said to him: ‘Master bless us.’ He said to them: ‘May it be God’s will that the fear oif heaven shall be upon you like the fear of flesh and blood. His disciples said to him: ‘Is that all?’ He said to them: ‘If only you could attain this!’ You can see [how important this is], for when a man wants to commit a transgression, he says, ‘I hope no man will see me.'” (Talmud Berachot 28b)

May we too be blessed to be concerned with God knowing our moral failures as we are with fellow flesh and blood human beings being aware of them. This is attainable by developing ‘Fear of God’ – the constant awareness of the one omnipresent and omnipotent God.