Reverence for Hashem (Parshat Eikev)


The Sefer Hachinuch, written in the 13th century in Spain, is a compendium of the 613 commandments of the Torah based upon the book of mitzvoth written by Maimonides. In the introduction to the Sefer Hachinuch the author list six commandments that apply to all Israelites, both male and female, and for all time, both day and night, as follows:

  1. Belief in (or knowledge of) Hashem (Exodus 20:2).
  2. Not to believe in any other deity (Exodus 20:3).
  3. To believe that Hashem is one (Deuteronomy 6:4).
  4. To love Hashem (ibid. 6:5).
  5. To revere Hashem (ibid. 10:20).
  6. Not to follow the desires of the heart and sight of the eyes (Numbers 15:39).

The Zohar 1:11b and Maharsha on Berachot 33b write that there are two aspects to this commandment:

  1. Fear of retribution, whether in this world or the afterlife, for transgressing a commandment.
  2. Genuine reverence for Hashem owning to His greatness and the lowly position of man.

This article will examine this commandment using the pardes method of exposition (i.e. literal meaning, exegesis, allusions, and secrets of the Torah), drawn from the Torah, Talmud, Midrash, and Zohar with associated commentaries.

Literal Meaning – פשט

The Torah introduces this commandment (ibid. 10:12) by Moses asking, “Now, Israel what does Hashem ask of you? Only to revere Hashem, go in all His (divine) ways, love Him (divine), and serve Hashem with all your heart and soul.” The reader may remark, “Moses first asks as a small matter to revere Hashem and then asks for much more (i.e. to follow, love, and serve Hashem). Which is it to revere or everything else listed in the verse?” The Talmud and its commentators (Berachot 33b) answer this question as will be explained in the section of exegesis.

The Torah commands reverence of Hashem (השם יראת) first in Deuteronomy 6:13, “Hashem, your G-d, you shall revere and serve, and in His name you shall take an oath.” and then in ibid. 10:20, “Hashem, your G-d, you shall revere (תירא) and serve (תעבד); to Him (divine) shall you cleave (תדבק) and in His name you shall take an oath.” The reader may ask, “Why does the Torah record two verses with a similar message and almost identical wording?”  In the opinion of the author, based upon the Sefer Hachinuch, the answer lies in the following:

  • Precise wording of the verses.
  • Context of the verses.
  • Two aspects of reverence of Hashem (as mentioned above).

The latter verse includes the command to cleave to Hashem which means to attach oneself to Torah scholars (Ketubot 111b) which was not mentioned in the former verse. In addition the verses before and after the former verse speak about the temptations that the Israelites will face when they settle in the land of Israel, for example new found wealth (ibid. 6:10),  overindulgence (6:11), and straying after idolatry (6:14). By contrast, the context of the latter verse includes more spiritual matters namely, love of Hashem (10:12), Hashem’s love for the Israelites (10:15), weakening of the evil inclination (10:16), and awareness of Hashem’s greatness (10:21). By combining these two points (i.e. wording of verses and context) one can conclude that the former verse refers to fear of retribution while the latter verse refers to genuine reverence of Hashem.

Although the Torah does not specify the means to achieve this reverence the latter verse implies the method, through the 4 commandments expressed by this verse (Maimonides Book of Mitzvoth).

  • Reverence for Hashem.
  • Pray to Hashem.
  • Attach to Torah scholars
  • Take an oath in Hashem’s name (when required).

Due to their importance, Maimonides lists these commandments as numbers 4-7 of the positive commandments even though they occur much later in the Torah than most other commandments.

Exegesis – דרש

Basis for Reverence

Rabbi Yaakov Emden, 17th century Talmudist, (ibid.) explains that Hashem only asks for reverence because with divine assistance the other requests will naturally follow. This is based on Talmud Kiddushin 30b which states that if not for the direct divine assistance a person would not be able to overcome his physical urges (i.e. evil inclination). The Talmud also notes (Berachot 33b) that for Moses reverence for Hashem is truly a small matter and on this basis he makes this request of the Israelites. The Talmudic commentators grapple with the obvious question, “If it is a small matter for Moses, how could it be a small matter for the rest of Israelites, especially in view of the fact that there will never be a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 34:10)?” They offer the following answers:

  • Moses shows us that it is possible to revere Hashem and in addition he teaches us his method of success, namely intense studying and teaching of the Torah in conjunction with realizing the greatness of Hashem. The Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) states that Hashem created the evil inclination and the study of the Torah as its antidote. In addition proper Torah study leads to more scrupulous observance of the commandments (ibid. 40b).
  • The Israelites possess the spiritual DNA of the forefathers, namely Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and are therefore attuned to this reverence (Koteiv on Ein Yaakov on Berachot 33b).  
  • Every Israelite possesses a spark of the soul of Moses and therefore can achieve a level of reverence in the legacy of Moses (Likkutei  Amarim Chapter 42).

Although Moses spoke directly to the Israelites his message is universal and therefore applies to all those who seek Hashem according to the doctrines of Moses. Maimonides (Laws of Shemita 13:13), writes,” Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before Hashem to serve Him and minister to Him and to know Him … Hashem will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world.”

Two Aspects

As mentioned above the Torah describes two aspects of reverence for Hashem:

  1. Fear of retribution or shame.
  2. Genuine reverence – awareness of the greatness of Hashem

This section will discuss both approaches and show how the attachment to Hashem through Torah scholars leads one from the first aspect of reverence to the second.

Aspect 1 – Fear of retribution or shame

This section will deal with the first aspect by quoting a number of classical sources in Jewish ethics to develop a method of achieving this reverence. Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai (Berachot 28b), on his death bed, advised his students, “You should fear Hashem as much as you fear a man of flesh and blood. A person may commit a transgression in private and hopes that no one will find out (thinking that Hashem does not see the transgression).” However even if a person did not witness the transgression certainly Hashem knows a person’s actions, as Rabbi Yehudah the Prince says (Avot 2:1), “Consider three things and you will not come into the grip of sin: Know what is above you – a watchful Eye (divine), an attentive Ear (divine), and all your actions are recorded in a Book (divine). It is interesting to note that in Hebrew the verbs to see (ראה) and revere (ירא) have similar spellings, meaning that one should realize that Hashem sees everything and a person should always see Hashem in his life.

Similarly in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim (1:1) the Rema writes that a person should always consider that Hashem is in his presence based upon the verse (Psalms 16:8), “I have set Hashem before me constantly; because [He is] at my right hand, I will not falter.” He then continues to write that a person does not behave in front of a mortal king in the same way that he behaves at home with his family. Then how much more so, should a person behave with trepidation knowing that Hashem is omnipresent as the verse says (Isaiah 6:3), “Holy, holy, holy is Hashem, Master of Legions, the whole world is filled with His (divine) glory.”In addition no action escapes Hashem’s awareness as the Hashem states (Jeremiah 23:24), “Can a man hide in secret places that I should not see him?  Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?”  

In the preliminary morning prayers, based upon Midrash Tanna Devei Eliyahu (Chapter 21), we say, “A person should always revere Hashem privately and publicly, acknowledge the truth, and speak the truth within his heart.” 

Aspect 2 – Genuine reverence 

This section will deal with the second aspect of reverence for Hashem, genuine reverence for the greatness of Hashem without regard to retribution or reward. Maimonides discusses both of these aspects in his Laws of Teshuvah (Returning to Hashem 10:1). He writes, “A person should not say l will separate from the transgression of the Torah so that I will be saved from the curses contained in the Torah or so that [my soul] will not be cut off from the life of the world to come. It is not fitting to serve Hashem in this manner. A person whose service is motivated only by these factors is considered as one who serves out of fear (i.e. first aspect). He is not on the level of the prophets or of the wise. However one who serves Hashem in this manner should be trained to serve Hashem out of fear until their knowledge increases and then they will serve out of love and genuine reverence (i.e. second aspect).

Maimonides then outlines the path to grow from the first to the second aspect of reverence (ibid 10:5) as follows, “Anyone who occupies himself with Torah (for ulterior motives), for example to receive reward or to protect himself from retribution is considered as one who is not serving for Hashem’s sake (לשמה שלא). (By contrast), anyone who occupies himself with Torah, not because of fear, nor to receive a reward, but rather because of his love for Hashem (and his genuine reverence for Hashem) … thereby serves Hashem with pure motives (לשמה). Nevertheless, our Sages declared (Pesachim 50b): A person should always occupy himself with Torah even when it is not for pure motives for eventually it will come to pure motives. Therefore, when one teaches novices, one should teach them to serve out of fear or to receive a reward. As their knowledge grows and their wisdom increases … they should become accustomed to serving Hashem out of love.”

Reflection on Hashem’s Greatness

In addition, Maimonides offers the following advice (Fundamentals of Torah 2:2), “When a person contemplates Hashem’s wondrous and great deeds …and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love Hashem. When he [continues] to reflect on these same matters, he will immediately recoil in awe and fear, appreciating that he is a lowly creature, standing with  limited, wisdom before He who is of perfect knowledge, as David stated (Psalms 8:4-5): When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers… [I wonder] what is man that You (divine) should recall Him.”

Based upon the above teachings of Maimonides, we can explain the difference between verses Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20. The former verse which omits the commandment of attaching to Torah scholars represents the first stage of reverence (i.e. for novices). By contrast the latter verse which includes the commandment of connecting and studying with Torah scholars speaks of the second aspect of reverence. 


As mentioned above, prayer is one of the steps which lead to genuine reverence for Hashem. Therefore the sages instituted the practice of saying 100 blessings per day as explained in the following paragraphs.  These 100 blessings remind one to revere and love Hashem and thereby remember Hashem at all times throughout the day (Shulchan Aruch Harav 46:1 based upon the Levush).

100 Blessings

Rabbi Meir says (Menachot 43b), “A person (Israelite) is obligated to recite one hundred blessings every day, as stated in Deuteronomy 10:12: “Now, Israel, what (מה) does Hashem ask of you?” Rabbi Meir interprets the verse as though it said one hundred (מאה) rather than (מה). The section “Hints and Allusions”, below provides other derivations of 100 from this verse. Although the Talmud does not provide the origin of this practice, Numbers Rabbah 18:21 explains that in the time of King David, 100 Israelites would mysteriously die each day. King David examined the cause of these deaths and concluded that the Israelites were not sufficiently praising Hashem. Therefore he instituted the practice of saying 100 blessings per day and the plague stopped. (The practice may have ceased sometimes afterwards and was reinstituted by the Sanhedrin during the second temple era.) This Midrash finds an allusion to this practice and the number of 100 in the verse (2 Samuel 23:1),” And these are the last words of David; the sayings of David the son of Jesse, and the sayings of the man raised on high (על), the anointed of the G-d of Jacob, and the sweet singer of Israel.” The gematria of על is 100, alluding to 100 blessings. This verse indicates that in addition to being a great singer, King David was exalted in his generation in Torah and returned to Hashem (Numbers Rabbah ibid.), especially after the sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel Chapters 11-12), despite his royal privilege. Therefore with these moral qualities and acting as a prophet he understood the reason for the plague. The word (על) is literally translated as high and is understood by this Midrash as yoke also spelled (על), meaning that King David bore his responsibilities

Although the Talmud (ibid.) commands 100 blessings per day, the Talmud does not provide an organized list of these blessings. The halachic commentators build this list by collecting blessings mentioned in different places throughout the Talmud whether in prayer, performing mitzvoth (e.g. donning phylacteries), and daily activities (e.g. eating).  The lists vary in some blessings taking into account the different customs of the Ashkenazi (Mishna Berurah) and Sephardic (Maimonides) communities. The table below lists the major categories and associated blessings according to Maimonides (Laws of Prayer 7:14) and Mishna Berurah (46:14):    


BlessingMaimonidesMishna Berurah 
Preliminary prayers2324
Prayer shawl and phylacteries23
Before and after Shema78
Amidah  (3 * 19)5757
Meals (2*8)1616

The first category “preliminary blessings” include blessings on washing the hands, getting dressed, studying the Torah, and praising Hashem (דזמרה פסוקי).  These lists assume a person consumes two full meals (i.e. with bread and wine after the meal) each day as shown in the following table. If a person does not perform grace with a cup of wine then the total decreases by 4 but still remains above 100. The table below lists the blessing on a full meal which are the same according to Ashkenazi and Sephardic customs.

BlessingMaimonidesMishna Berurah 
Ritual washing of the hands11
On bread11
Grace after meals44
Grace on wine22


On Shabbat the list id modified because the amidah contains only 7 blessings and is said 4 times, resulting in 28 blessings. In addition phylacteries are not donned on Shabbat. The Kiddush ceremony at night adds 2 blessings, one on the wine and another on the Kiddush itself. The Kiddush during the day adds 1 blessing, on the wine only. Even though there is an extra meal on Shabbat, the total number of blessings is less than 100 as shown below in the table for the blessings on Shabbat. A similar issue of reaching 100 blessings arises on the holidays and especially Yom Kippur where one is fasting.

BlessingMaimonidesMishna Berurah 
Preliminary prayers2324
Prayer shawl only11
Before and after Shema77
Amidah  (4 * 7)2828
Meals (3*8) + Kiddush (3)2727

The halachic commentators debate the different methods to achieve 100 blessings as follows:

  • Additional blessings on spices and sweet fruit (Menachot 43b and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 290:1).
  • Answer amen to the blessings on the Torah (2*8) and the haftarah (1*5) (Shulcan Aruch ibid. 284:3) for a total of 21 blessings in the morning service (16+5). In the afternoon service there would be 6 additional blessings (2*3).  In this manner the total number of blessings exceeds 100.

  Each method has its advantages and disadvantages as shown below:

Additional blessingsBlessing made by personKeep track of blessings
Answer amenPart of serviceBlessing not made by person

The Rosh (Berachot 9:24) endorses the second approach (presumably due to its simplicity). However the Mishna Berurah (46:14) favours the first approach and considers the second approach as a last resort. However the Mishna Berurah (622:5) considers the prayer להינו -כא אין   recited after the mussaf amidah as a potential source of additional blessings. Whichever method is used a person can reach 100 blessings on the Sabbath and holidays.

 Attachment to Torah Scholars

Torah Wisdom

As explained above with respect to aspect 2, genuine reverence for Hashem is related to attachment to Torah scholars. Through this attachment one acquires Torah wisdom and proper behaviour. King Solomon says (Proverbs 13:20),” He who goes with the wise (חכמים) will become wise (וחכם), but he who befriends the fools will be broken. In a similar vein, Maimonides writes (Laws of Proper Conduct – De’ot 6:1), “It is natural for a man’s character and actions to be influenced by his friends and associates and for him to follow the local norms of behavior. Therefore, he should associate with the righteous and be constantly in the company of the wise, so as to learn from their deeds. Conversely, he should keep away from the wicked who walk in darkness, so as not to learn from their deeds.” 

The following verses illustrate the link between reverence for Hashem and study of the Torah:

Psalms 111:10 – The beginning of wisdom is reverence (יראת) for Hashem; good understanding to all who perform them; his praise endures forever.

Proverbs 2:5 – Then you will understand the reverence (יראת) for Hashem, and you will find the knowledge of G-d.

A number of citations from Ethics of the Fathers (i.e. Avot) illustrate the importance of Torah wisdom with respect to genuine reverence for Hashem. The citation numbers are provided as they appear in the prayer book and in the printed mishnayot in brackets.

Avot 3:21 (3:17) – Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says, “If there is no wisdom (חכמה) (then) there is no (genuine) reverence (יראה) for Hashem. If there is no (genuine) reverence for Hashem (then) there is no wisdom.” This citation shows the interdependence between wisdom and reverence, meaning that without Torah wisdom it is difficult to grow from the first aspect (i.e. retribution) to the second aspect (i.e. genuine reverence). However if a person is not committed to serving Hashem (i.e. genuine reverence) then his Torah knowledge will not remain because eventually he will stop studying when the demands of the Torah interfere with his personal desires.

Avot 3:11 (3:9) – Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa says, “Anyone whose fear of sin takes priority over his wisdom (then) his wisdom will endure. However anyone whose wisdom takes priority over his fear of sin (then) his wisdom will not endure.” This citation shows the interdependence between the actual fear of sin and Torah wisdom, meaning that one must be committed to observe the mitzvoth otherwise the person will eventually reject Torah wisdom and the mitzvoth.   

Avot 4:16 (4:12) – Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua says, “The reverence for your teacher (should be) as the reverence for Hashem.” At the basic level this saying conveys the importance of respect and reverence for Torah teachers and scholars especially as it applies to determining Halacha. This statement also acknowledges the role of a Torah teacher as the gateway to genuine reverence for Hashem through his teaching and personal example as a role model.     

From the prayer book, the blessing immediately before the morning shema (עולם אהבת or רבה אהבה) emphasizes the importance of Torah study in reference to the love of and reverence for Hashem, “Enlighten our eyes in Your (divine) Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and revere Your Name.”    

Love vs. Reverence

The Jerusalem Talmud (Sotah 5:5) raises an apparent contradiction between two methods of serving Hashem (i.e. love and reverence). Deuteronomy 6:5 commands love of Hashem, “You shall love Hashem” while (ibid. 6:13) commands reverence, “You shall revere Hashem.” With love, one performs the commandments with enthusiasm which could lead to over familiarity and a lack of respect for the mitzvoth. In addition man by nature can love many things. Hence he may enjoy some mitzvoth but not follow others because the prohibitions may interfere with one’s desire for all human pleasures. With reverence, one serves Hashem with trepidation. However with reverence alone a person could come to rebel against Hashem either because of difficulties in life (i.e. blaming Hashem) or excessive success, as the verse says (ibid. 32:15), “Jeshurun (Israel) became fat and rebelled … and deserted Hashem.” In addition this type of service lacks passion and does not enable a person to grow. Hence the Jerusalem Talmud concludes that both modes are essential and, in fact, each one reinforces the other.  Maimonides (commentary on Avot 1:3) concludes that service of love relates primarily to the positive commandments and reverence relates primarily to the prohibitions. In conclusion the attachment to Torah scholars provides the means to serve Hashem through both love and reverence.  

Taking an Oath

Numbers Rabbah 22:1 notes that Hashem does not (ideally) permit one to take an oath in His (divine) name unless the individual meets the requirements of Deuteronomy 10:20:

  • Genuine reverence of Hashem – like Abraham, Job, and Joseph.
  • Service to Hashem – Study of Torah and observance of mitzvoth.
  •  Attachment to Torah scholars – marries his daughter to a scholar, do business with them, and support them financially.

With these qualities one’s life is intertwined with Hashem and therefore his words and oaths are truly the words of Hashem. However since verse (Deuteronomy 6:13) permits taking an oath without attaching to Torah scholars, this Midrash indicates a level of scrupulousness above the letter of the law. As long as a person has reverence for Hashem and serves Hashem, he is permitted to take an oath (Shulchan Aruch Chosen Mishpat 92:1-3).    

From Hashem’s Perspective

Until now, this article has discussed reference for Hashem from man’s perspective. Here the article will provide a few sources indicating how precious this reverence is to Hashem. 

Rabbi Hanina said (Berachot 33b), “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the reverence for Heaven (שמים יראת), which is in the hands of man”, according to his free will. Since Hashem will not interfere with man’s choice, this reverence is highly valued by Hashem. Rabbi Hanina said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai (ibid.), “Hashem has nothing in his treasure house except (the merit of) reverence for Heaven (שמים יראת) (as the verse) states (Isaiah 33:6): The reverence for Hashem is His (divine) treasure.”    

Rav Yehuda said (Shabbat 31b), “Hashem created this world so that (mankind) would have reverence for Him as the verse states (Ecclesiastes 3:14),”Hashem made (the world) so that (mankind) shall stand in awe of Him.”

King Solomon in Proverbs 10:27,” Reverence for Hashem will add days, but the years of the wicked will be shortened. This verse indicate that the reward for revering Hashem is very great and may even add years to one’s life according to the rabbis on Yevamot 50a. However Rabbi Akiva holds that a lifespan cannot be increased from the initial divine decree but reverence of Hashem prevents a person from reducing his preordained lifespan due to sin.     

Hints and allusions – רמז

Numerology of 611 and 613

Numbers Rabbah (18:21) discusses the importance of reverence for Hashem and equates this mitzvah to the whole Torah trough the following number associations (i.e. gematria):

  1. 611 – Gematria of both יראת (reverence) and תורה (Torah) are 611.
  2. 613 – Number of mitzvoth in the Torah equals the above gematria of 611 with the above two words (i.e. 613 = 611 + 2). 

The author would like to add to this Midrash by pointing out that the words reverence (יראת) and the command to revere (תירא), as in Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20, have the same letters and hence the same gematria of 611, indicating the importance of reverence and its associated commandment.

Numerology of Deuteronomy 10:12 – 100 Blessings

The verse (Deuteronomy 10:12) contains a number of hidden meanings which may be expounded upon using the following techniques of hints and allusions:

  1. Opening and closing letters of the verse (i.e. letter vav ו and kaf ך in gematria 6 +20 = 26).
  2. Number of words in the verse (26).
  3. Number of letters in the verse (99).

Numerology of 26

The number 26 represents the gematria of the Tetragrammaton, the actual name of Hashem    (ה-ו-ה-י), indicating the intense divine energy in this verse where both factors (i.e. opening and closing letters and number of words in the verse) amount to 26. This verse indicates the importance of attaching to Hashem through reverence.

Numerology of 100

As mentioned above, the rabbis of the Sanhedrin established the practice of saying 100 blessings per day. There are several ways to link the number of 100 to this verse:

  • Add a letter – read the word ‘what” (מה) as if written with an extra aleph א to obtain מאה which means 100 (Rashi on Menachot 43b). Alternately, read the word “ask” (שאל) in past tense with an extra vav ו to obtain the word שואל (ask in present tense). In both cases whether adding an aleph or a vav the effective letter count is increased from 99 to 100.
  • Atbash transformation – transform the word (מה) in atbash to obtain (יץ) which in gematria is 10+90 = 100 (Tosafot ibid.).
  • Inclusive count – In gematria one may add 1 (כולל עם) to a count to indicate a complete unit (e.g. word or sentence). In this case the verse contains 99 letters and the verse itself represents 1 indicating a numerology of 100 (99+1).

Comparison of Verses 6:13 and 10:20

Using the same technique of numerology on verses 6:13 and 10:20, which command reverence for Hashem, yields the following results:  

TechniqueVerse 6:13Verse 10:20Meaning
Opening and closing letterע א (1 + 70 =71)ע א (1 + 70 =71)Oral law
Number of words in verse810Written law
Number of letters in verse3238Heart (devotion)

 Opening and closing letter

In both verses, the opening and closing letters are the same (i.e. ע א) with a value of 71. This number corresponds to the number of judges in the supreme court of the Sanhedrin (Sanhedrin 2a).  Maimonides (Laws of Mamrim 1:1) writes, “The Supreme Sanhedrin in Jerusalem is the essence of the Oral Law. They are the pillars of instruction from which statutes and judgments issue forth for the entire Jewish people.” Hence we see that reverence for Hashem is conditional upon adherence to the oral law as taught by the sages.

Number of words in verse

The numbers of words in the verses are 8 and 10, respectively. The numerology of 8 refers to the covenant between Hashem and the Jewish people as clearly stated in the Torah in reference to circumcision (Genesis 17:10-14). The number 8 also refers to observing the mitzvoth and going beyond human nature, since the number seven refers to the natural world.     By contrast, the number 10 refers to the written Torah in reference to the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4) and includes both study and observance. These numbers 8 and 10 respectively refer to the two aspects of reverence for Hashem based upon observance and observance with intense Torah study.

Number of letters in verse

The numbers of letters in the verses are 32 and 38 corresponding to the gematria of heart (לב) 32 and his heart (לבו) 38. Although the first time a word appears in the Torah sets a connotation for that word there are still many meanings for each of the words of the Torah. For example, the word heart (לב) first appears in a negative connotation, Genesis 8:21, “Since the thoughts of man’s heart (לב) are evil from his youth.” In addition the word heart (לב) is used 15 times in reference to hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. However the word heart (לב) is also used 8 times in reference to the building of the Tabernacle. This indicates that the word heart may refer to devotion to Hashem with good inclination (i.e. divine soul) or rebelling against Hashem with the evil inclination (i.e. animal soul). In fact, the Talmud Berachot 54a acknowledges this struggle and interprets Deuteronomy 6:5 to love Hashem with your all of your heart (לבבך בכל) meaning with both inclinations.  

Similarly the Hebrew word לבו (his heart) has reference to the good and evil inclinations. This word first appears in the Torah (Genesis 6:5), “Hashem saw …that all the thoughts of his heart (לבו) (of man) were always evil.”  However unlike the word heart (לב), this word is also used by the Torah in reference to Hashem. The next verse states, “Hashem reconsidered having made man on earth, and he grieved unto His heart (לבו)” (because of the downfall of mankind. This verse should not be interpreted literally because Hashem cannot reconsider since He knows the future (i.e. omniscient). In addition Hashem does not feel emotions like human beings. The Torah uses the technique of anthropomorphism to describe Hashem’s actions in terms that human beings can understand. Nevertheless we see that the word לבו (his heart) has a direct link to Hashem which fits with the second aspect of reverence for Hashem through Torah study and attachment to Torah scholars. Genesis 8:21 provides another instance of the word לבו (his heart) in reference to Hashem, “Hashem said to his heart: I will not again curse the ground because of man.”  Similar to the word heart (לב), the Torah uses the word לבו (his heart) 7 times in reference to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and 4 times in reference to building of the Tabernacle.  In addition this word לבו (his heart) features in the third, morning blessing of the shema (ויציב אמת), “Praiseworthy is the man who obeys Your (divine) commandments and takes to his heart (לבו) Your (divine) teaching and word.”     

Secrets of Torah – סוד

Reverence vs. Joy

The Zohar (3:56a), in the name of Rabbi Yitzchak, raises an apparent contradiction between two verses in Psalms.

Psalms 2:11 – Serve Hashem with reverence (ביראה) and rejoice with trepidation.

Psalms 100:2 – Serve Hashem with joy (בשמחה), come before Him with praise.

The former verse implies serving Hashem with reverence and trepidation implying a distance between man and Hashem. However the latter verse implies serving Hashem with joy and song, implying a free spirit and familiarity with Hashem. The Zohar resolves this apparent contradiction by placing each verse in its context. At the beginning of one’s spiritual quest (literally serving Hashem) one should emphasize the reverence aspect to keep the animalistic soul in check. Then with divine assistance, as discussed above, one increases his spiritual nature to the point where one can serve Hashem with joy, meaning the joy of the mitzvah itself with the divine soul prevailing. Without proper preparation this joy may only be physical, arising from the animalistic soul (i.e. partly out of control), and the person may be serving himself more than Hashem.

Divine Wisdom

In addition the Zohar (ibid.) quotes the following verses linking the quest for divine wisdom, using the words beginning (ראשית) and reverence (יראת) for Hashem:

Psalms 111:10 – The beginning (ראשית) of wisdom is reverence (יראת) for Hashem; good understanding to all who perform them; his praise endures forever.

Proverbs 1:7 – Reverence (יראת) for Hashem is the beginning (ראשית) of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.

The Zohar (1:11a) notes that both of these verses contain the word beginning (ראשית) indicating that reverence for Hashem is the portal for ascending the spiritual ladder beginning with the lowest of the 10 sefirot (i.e. kingdom). In addition the Zohar links the word beginning (ראשית) with the first word of the Torah (בראשית) implying that reverence for Hashem is both fundamental and the reason for the existence of the world. 

The commentator Iyun Yaakov, Rabbi Jacob ben Joseph Reischer of the 17th and 18th centuries, (Shabbat 31b) notes that the word בראשית may be rearranged to form the words בשת ירא (literally fear of shame) meaning that reverence for Hashem leads to fear of sinning and thereby shaming oneself in Hashem’s presence. The word בראשית may also be rearranged to spell שבת ירא (literally reverence for Shabbat) indicating that one is scrupulous to observe the many laws of Shabbat in honour of Hashem.

The Zohar (1:100a) comments that attachment to Hashem (תדבק) involves one whole being namely action, speech, and will of the heart (i.e. thought). In addition the Zohar (2:49b) indicates that this attachment is mutual. Just as we should attach to Hashem, Hashem desires to attach to us through the divine soul and our study and observance of His (divine) Torah as the verse states (Deuteronomy 32:9), “For Hashem’s portion is His people; Jacob is the measure of His (divine) inheritance.”    


The mitzvah of reverence for Hashem is a cornerstone of Judaism and is one of the six commandments that apply at all times. This reverence has two aspects – fear of retribution or genuine awe of Hashem without regard to punishment. The Torah hints at these two aspects through verses Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20. Maimonides writes that initially a person will start at the first aspect and gradually grow in to the second aspect. This article developed the means of transition as follows:

  • Reflection on Hashem’s greatness.
  • Prayer and meditation – 100 blessings.
  • Torah study.
  • Attachment to Torah scholars.

In essence, the striving for genuine reverence is a lifelong quest which is aided by divine inspiration.

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