In this portion, Moses makes an amazing statement: “And now, Israel, what does God ask from you other than to fear Him…” (Deut. 10:12)
Moses has just given us commandment, after commandment, after commandment in God’s name. And near the end of it all, what does he say? “Well, all that God really wants is that you fear Him!” What about all those other 612 mitzvot that God said He wanted?
And why does God want us to fear Him anyway; is it a power trip, like the Wizard of Oz? Does it make God feel greater if we are afraid?
The answer lies in the etymology of the word “fear” in Hebrew. It has exactly the same root as the word “see.” “Fearing” and “seeing” are integrally connected. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. That which you do not “see,” you do not “fear.”
The word “fear” would be better translated as “awareness of consequences,” “recognition of the reality of a situation.” What does God want? He wants us to face reality and not to hide from that which we know to be true. Over and over again in our lives, we know what we should do, we know what makes sense for us – but we are unwilling to face that reality because it is too uncomfortable. We choose the comfort of lying to ourselves, over the struggle of reality. Reality is almost always harsh. Delusion is always so enticing.
You don’t want to face the fact that a relationship is over. You know that it is, without a doubt. But you need it. So you convince yourself that it is not. Or you don’t want to face the fact that you’ve made a mistake and need to change. It’s painful and humbling to think that we are not perfect. We’d so much rather create an illusion of perfection. So we blame someone else: parents, spouse, the world, God – anything but to face the reality of being wrong!
What about someone who doesn’t want to face the reality of his own unhappiness? He’ll put on a show and pretend how happy he is. Not for the world, but for himself. No one wants to admit that they are so lost, they don’t even know how to be happy.
So what does God want from us? Only that we be honest. Honest with ourselves. We always know what is right. But rarely are we willing to admit it (to ourselves). So Moses advises: See. Be cognizant. All the rest will follow. Hide from reality and you will miss the boat. It may create a beautiful illusion… but when the bubble bursts, nothing will remain.