Thursday, July 29, 2010

Parashat Eikev: Respecting Torah Scholars

Shimon Ha-Amsoni would expound the meaning of every occurrence of the word  את (et, the particle indicating a direct object) found in the Torah. But when he came to the verse, את ה' אלקיך תירא - "You shall revere the Eternal your God" (Deut. 10:12) - he stopped. What could be comparable to the awe of God?

Until Rabbi Akiva came and expounded the את in this verse - that it includes [the obligation to respect] Torah scholars. (Kiddushin 57a)

What made Rabbi Akiva compare the respect one should have for Torah scholars to the awe we should feel towards the Creator of the universe? Would it not be more appropriate to derive the obligation to respect scholars from the mitzvah of kibbud av, to respect one's parents?

Parable of the Blind Beggar

There was once a blind man who needed to travel to a neighboring country in order collect money to support himself and his family.

The local government office granted the blind man the necessary travel documents. But when he
arrived at the border, there was a problem. The man had an authorized pass for himself - but no documents for his assistant who always accompanied him on his travels.

The blind man was not fazed. "If you read my travel documents carefully," he explained to the border official, "you will see that it covers both of us."

The official began to read the document out loud. "Please note that Mr. Jones, a blind man from this town, has the necessary permit to travel..."

"You see?" interrupted the blind man. The document clearly states that it is a travel permit for a blind man. Obviously, a blind person cannot travel alone. He requires an assistant to lead him and watch over him in his travels."

"To Include Torah Scholars"

The Torah commands, "You shall revere the Eternal your God." But the average person is like the blind when it comes to serving God. How can we know how to acquire Yirat Shamayim (awe of Heaven) and keep the mitzvot carefully?

As Rabbi Akiva taught, this verse perforce must also include the requirement to respect Torah scholars. Like the blind man's travel documents, which implied the obvious need for an assistant, the verse implicitly includes the Torah scholars whom we need to instruct us in the path of reverence and awe for God.

(Adapted from Mishlei Ya'akov, pp. 419-420)