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Mishlei: The Wisdom of Awe

Solomon now begins the actual text of Proverbs: “The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge; foolish ones scorn wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7) Solomon both begins

and ends Proverbs with awe, “A woman who is in awe of God will be praised,” (31:30) to teach us that the essence of Proverbs is the study of awe as wisdom. (Likutei HaGra)

The beginning of knowledge,” or, “Reishit,” is a term consistently used to describe the purpose of something. (Chemdah Genuzah) The purpose of awe is knowledge. There is no knowledge or wisdom without awe of God.

This echoes the Ramchal, who wrote: The Wise Man said to the Chassid, “It does not take very much understanding to comprehend the one must greatly fear God on account of His great exaltedness. I believe with certainty that there is no room for much investigation or discernment in these matters, for they are simple and clear.”

The Chassid responded, “I see the words of the verse teaching the very opposite of this opinion of yours. For it is stated, ‘The fear of God alone, “hen,” is wisdom.’ (Job 28:28) Our Rabbis took ‘hen’ to mean ‘one,’ and they said, ‘for in Greek ‘hen’ means one. (Shabbat 31b) Thus, the verse teaches us two things. First, that fear of God is wisdom, and second, that it is the most significant branch of wisdom.

“Now if fearing God did not entail reflection and intellection, Scripture would not have called it wisdom, but rather uprightness or moral rectitude. It should not, however, have called it wisdom, and certainly not claimed that it alone deserves that designation.” (Mesillat Yesharim/ Dialogue Version)

We are familiar with the Mitzvah of awe, yet we often assume, as the wise man above, that we understand what awe is and what the Mitzvah demands. The Gra and the Ramchal before him, focused on the Book of Proverbs as lessons in awe; its definition, requirements, and application to absolutely everything we do. Everything that Shlomo HaMelech has written so far about wisdom is only to allow us to understand what awe is and how to achieve it.

“I fear sin,” is insufficient. I must have such fear of sin that I will constantly study in order to avoid sinning. (Gra)

“I am in awe of god,” is not enough. The awe must lead to attraction and attachment that are so intense that all I want is to learn more about God and His Will.

There is no Torah study without the awe that Shlomo will teach us.

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