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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Ekev (64)

The following is one of the most basic verses in our Torah regarding man's obligation in life.

Tosefos questions a well-known saying of the Sages.

Deut. 10:12

And now Israel, what does Hashem, your G-d demand of you , except to fear Hashem your G-d, to go in all His ways, to love Him, and to serve Hashem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul."


Except to fear etc.: Rashi: Our Rabbis derived from this [verse] that all is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven.


How do the Rabbis derive this lesson from our verse?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The verse says that G-d requests Israel "only to fear" Him. If G-d must make this request of the people, it is clear that He has no control over the matter. Secondly, the fact that it says "only" to fear Him implies that this the only thing that G-d demands of us - because it is the only thing He has to demand, since everything else is in His power. This would seem to be the basis of this drash.

Tosefos Questions Rashi

The Moshav Zekainim finds another saying of the Sages, which seems to contradict our saying. They cite the Talmud (Kesubos 30a) which says:

"All is in the hands of Heaven except for tzinim and pachim"

The meaning of the Hebrew words " tzinim and pachim" is based on the verse in Proverbs 22:5:

"Thorns (tzinim ) and snares ( pachim) are in the path of the perverse; he who guards his soul will distance himself from them." (This is Rashi's interpretation in Proverbs.).

The message of this proverb is that dangers exist in the world, particularly for those who are "perverse," that is, for those who don't try to avoid them; but the cautious person takes heed not be harmed by them.

The Sages' statement can now be understood. These dangers are the individual's responsibility, he must guard himself against them; he should not be nonchalant and think they are a Divine decree and that there is nothing he can do. If he is not careful, there is no assurance that G-d will intervene to save him.

Now let us return to Tosefos' question: The contradiction between these two sayings of the Sages. If only the fear of Heaven is not in G-d's hand, then what of "thorns and snares"? And vice versa.

Can you suggest an answer?

Your Answer:

Tosefos' Answer

Tosefos' Answer: They suggest that the two sayings represent two different areas of a person's life.

Regarding all matters of our material, worldly, existence, such as health, wealth, physical make-up, only "thorns and snares" i.e. harmful accidents that can be avoided, are not in G-d's hands. (The reckless or tired driver, take note.)

And of all matters related to the spirit, such as, high or low intelligence, an angry or a pleasant personality, only the fear of Heaven is not in G-d's hands. This means that although we don't all begin our existence with the same physical, mental or psychological circumstances, nevertheless, we all can exert ourselves equally in the realm of the fear of G-d.

Thus, according to Tosefos, there is no contradiction. The two sayings relate to two different spheres of our life, the physical and the spiritual. In each of these realms there remains one arena of behavior for which man, and man alone, is responsible for his fate; areas where Heaven allows man full freedom.

Tosefos adds that this idea is clearly expressed in the Tanach. The prophet Jeremiah said (9:22):

"Let not a wise man glorify himself with his wisdom, and let not the strong man glorify himself with his strength, let not a rich man glorify himself with his wealth. For only with this may one glorify himself - contemplating and knowing Me, for I am Hashem Who does kindness, justice and righteousness in the land for this is My desire, says Hashem."

This means that since a man should only rightfully take credit (and "glory in") accomplishments which he has achieved through his own efforts, therefore there is no reason to glory in the accumulation of wealth, wisdom and strength since these all are gifts from G-d. But only "knowing G-d" which is the same as fearing G-d, is an achievement that man can justifiably be proud of, since whatever he achieves in this area, he has achieved through his own efforts.

The Comparative Analysis of Tosefos

This question and answer are typical of the comparative/analytical approach of the Ba'alie Tosefos in their Talmudic commentary. Frequently they uncover other citations in the Talmud which appear to contradict the text they are relating to. Their approach is to try to reconcile the divergent texts, just as they did in our case.

There is certainly an easier way to reconcile the contradiction between these two statements as to what is only in the hands of Heaven. It is reasonable to assume that two different Sages made these different statements. They might differ in their opinion as to what is and what is not in the hands of Heaven. We constantly find differences between Sages in the Talmud. That is the whole excitement of the Talmudic discourse. Why doesn't Tosefos simply say that these are two different and differing opinions? But this is not the approach taken by Tosefos. Characteristically, their style of commentary, in the Talmud especially, is to prefer to reconcile matters in a way that avoids an argument and at the same time gives us an insight into the differing concepts.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

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