Wednesday, January 16, 2013

yarei es dvar Hashem -- even by hedging one's bets

The ba'alei mussar focus focus on the reaction to Moshe's warning in last week's parsha that "ha'yarei es dvar Hashem," the person who fears Hashem, should take his animals in from the field so they are not smitten by the hail of barad.  By this point the Mitzrim had seen six makkos come exactly as predicted by Moshe and there was little to lose by taking the animals in just in case.  And yet, there were Mitzrim who left their animals out and suffered the consequences.  It was not a lack of knowledge or lack of evidence that prevented the Mitzrim from accepting Moshe's warning -- by this point, having gone 6 for 6, Moshe's warning was entirely credible and worthy of any rational person's consideration.  Rather, it was simple stubbornness that prevented them from listening. Lack of emunah in this case, and according to the ba'alei mussar this is symptomatic of all cases, was the irrational response rather than the reasonable one.  

The lesson I take away is more of a positive one.  I don't know about you, but if someone described me as a "yarei es dvar Hashem" I would take it as a pretty big compliment. What did it take to be a Mitzri who is "yarei dvar Hashem?"  Apparently all it took was giving just enough credence to Moshe's warning (after Moshe had already proven himself multiple times over) to hedge one's bets by bringing the animals into the barn rather than risk their loss.  Such a little thing to do!   But apparently because there is such a big yetzer ha'ra to remain stubbon in spite of all the evidence, to remain stubborn even when the risk of being wrong might bring disaster and the upside if right is so great, that even for such a small thing one deserves to be called "yarei es dvar Hashem."

Update: After writing this I saw that R' Yechiel Michel Feinstein in his sefer on chumash is medyayek that the word "dvar" in the phrase  "yarei es dvar Hashem" is superfluous -- it could have just as easily said "yarei Hashem" if the pasuk meant to convey that the Mitzrim feared Heaven.  R YM"F explains that the Mitzrim had no real yiras shamayim.  However, the better Mitzrim realized you can't argue with the facts.  What Moshe said came true, no matter how you explain it.  Therefore, they took his words -- only his words, but not the idea of G-d -- seriously and acted on them.  Of course, this makes the Mitzrim who didn't even go that far that much worse.


  1. I once heard a vort from the Imrei Emes that when asked for the definition of of Yor'ai Hashem, he said, "What's the question? It's an open posuk.

    "The Torah contrasts two types of Mitzri'im. 'Hayorei dvar Hashem' versus "va'asher lo som el libo.' A yorei Hashem is a person who is 'som el libo'." I.e., he notices and pays attention.

    So, for you, it may be incomprehensible, but there are people who read about Moshe's record with the makkos [as you said, six for six] with no attention, and then immediately turned to the comics or sports.
    It wasn't a question of hedging bets; if you would have asked the mitzri'im who ignored Moshe's warning why they didn't save their animals, they wouldn't have known what you were talking about.

    What is known in the trade as low-information voters.

  2. Incidentally, any mitzri with any sense wouldn't need Moshe's perfect record. Just the logic of Pascal's Wager should have been enough, as long as there was any indication that Moshe could be right.

  3. Anonymous10:26 PM

    >>> ...this makes the Mitzrim who didn't even go that far that much worse

    but "the truth is not so simple"!* it was the 'baker camp' among Pharoah's servants who, little concerned with their master's honor/pleasure, ignored his stubborn attitude now & hid their own indoors**; it was those of the cupbearer camp, ever respectful of their
    complex duty to their master, & mindful of his least displeasure, who
    couldn't bring themselves to part ways now...

    *DC, Dec. 27, '05

    **more: with only 24-hours notice til the hail (9:18), & livestock
    grazing far & wide, their characteristic "rush to achieve results" (ibid.)
    served them well...

  4. >>>Just the logic of Pascal's Wager should have been enough, as long as there was any indication that Moshe could be right.

    That's exactly what I had in mind when I wrote that there was little to lose and anything and everything to gain.
    I like your vort from the Imrei Emes.