On a family trip to San Francisco, we visited Alcatraz. As we walked up the steep hill to the cell block which housed the country’s top criminals, our tour guide said, “The guards and their families kept their doors unlocked at night—they knew the bad guys were all locked up.”
In other words, they knew they were safe from those they feared most.
Yet, in reality, the 1500 prisoners that were in Alcatraz ended up there because it was their own lack of fear: No fear of law, of humanity, and ultimately, God.
In parshat Ekev, we are taught the lesson to fear God. Our teacher is Moses. The Talmud asks, “Is fearing God such a small thing?” The Rabbis teach that God has nothing in the treasury except a stockpile of fear of Heaven.
Fear of God is a big deal, but to Moses, why does it seem so small? We learn that someone who already has a prized possession does not see it as significant. It is often taken for granted. But for someone who does not have that possession, it is a bigger than we can imagine.
The same is true with fear of God.
For most of us, fear of God takes work. This fear is not terror, but this fear is awe, recognizing a higher source in our world.
We must be grateful to have a leader such as Moses that this yirah, fear, was a regular occurrence–not saved for special moments, but rather used each day.
If only we could install a bit more of this yirah into our lives, one by one, the world would be a more God fearing place, which would directly bring more love into our lives.