The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. Proverbs 1:7 NASB
Fear – Last year (October 2, 2011) we examined Moses Luzzatto’s insight into the meaning of yirat adonai (YHWH). Ira Stone commented on Luzzatto’s examination. It’s worth reading again:
“It should by now be clear that the term yirat Ha-Shem [yirat adonai] cannot simply be translated as “fear of God.” Rather, yirat ha-Shem is wisdom as expressed in worship . . . Nor is it any better understood simply as awe, a tactic that contemporary English speakers often take. Instead, I understand yirat ha-Shem as the overwhelming weight we take on when we recognize the infinite nature of our responsibility for others; ahavah is the infinite potential for joy we experience by our choices to implement the yetzer ha-tov. . . . our relationship to God is a living rather than a thinking relationship. It is not speculation on the being of God, or even on how we can speculate about God, that claims the attention of Jewish intellectual effort. Rather, it is living in the mode of God as we have experienced it in both our personal and communal histories.”
Today’s Word spends a lot of time and effort thinking about God. In that respect, even though Today’s Word takes a decidedly Hebraic approach to exegesis, it is no different than the work of Christian theology. Christian theology is, by definition, thinking about God. It is the work of analyzing the text, drawing rational conclusions, postulating theories about the nature and character of God and His demands on His creation. I have often pointed out that there is no declared Jewish systematic theology. You might have thought that this is because the Hebraic world operates on some other logic, that it stems from a completely different paradigm. While that it true for the Hebraic idea of how the world works and what God demands of us, both Greek and Hebrew thought share the same logical framework. This means that Luzzatto’s insight is even more crucial for it is far too easy to simply slide over into an Hebraic mentality without grasping that Man from a biblical perspective is not what he thinks but what he does. The fundamental reason that there is no Jewish systematic theology is not because Jews do not have a well-articulated rational framework for understanding God, but rather because Judaism is ultimately about living in the experience of God. In fact, a summary picture of the Bible is that it is first and foremost a book about how to live under God’s direction. How to think about God is a far-distant second.
Once we grasp this incredible shift, we realize that Torah is a way of life, a voluntarily-adopted code of conduct that embraces every aspect of ordinary human living. Crucial to this view of Torah is the biblical truth that I am responsible! I am responsible to God, to others and, finally, to myself. In very practical terms, the fear of God is the infinite weight of our responsibility for others. No man comes into the world without this weight, although many have tried to avoid it or deflect it. But the biblical Man knows that carrying the weight of responsibility for others is the fear of the Lord. And it doesn’t really matter what you think about it. It only matters that you do something about it!
Topical Index: fear of the Lord, yirat adonai, responsibility, logic, systematic theology, Proverbs 1:7
 Ira Stone commentary to Moses Luzzatto, Mesillat Yesharim, pp. 10-11.