In the beginning of this week’s Parashah, the Torah writes, “Ish Imo VeAviv Tirau VeEt Shabtotai Tishmoru,” “Each man shall fear his mother and father and observe my Sabbaths.” (VaYirkra 19:3) Rashi explains that the juxtaposition of fearing one’s parents and observing the Shabbat teaches us that if a parent commands his child to violate a Halacha, illustrated by Shabbat, the child must disregard his parent. The Alshich wonders why the Torah was compelled to teach that a parent cannot override Hashem’s word; are they not also Hashem’s subjects? He answers that since both parents were partners with Hashem in their child’s creation, the Torah equates reverence for parents with that for Hashem. The Gemara (Kiddushin 30b) teaches that when one honors his parents, he also honors Hashem – the third collaborator in man’s creation. One might surmise, therefore, that since parents consist of a two-thirds majority of creation, they might override Hashem; ergo, the Torah teaches us that Hashem is the creator of everything, and parents, as His subjects, have no right to command their children to transgress His Torah.
The Dubno Maggid related an allegory that underlined this idea. Three brothers decided to travel to different countries to learn the wonders of the world. A year later, they shared their experiences and findings. One brother discovered a mirror that could see anywhere in the world, another found an aviation machine that could instantaneously travel throughout the globe, and the last brother unearthed a miracle potion that could cure all known diseases. The first brother looked in his mirror and saw a deathly ill princess, her father, the king, distressed, and the royal doctors dumbfounded. The first brother related his finding to his siblings, and they traveled to the princess’ palace on the second brother’s flying instrument, where the third brother miraculously healed the princess with his potion. The jubilant king decided to marry his daughter to one of the brothers, but as the recovery would not have happened without any of them, he let the princess decide who to marry. She realized that although they all were equally responsible for her past cure, if she will be again stricken with the same illness, only the brother with the magic potion will be able to cure her, and she therefore chose him as her husband. Although there were three equivalent, equally respected, partners in man’s past creation, as for the future, one is more dependent on Hashem than the other two partners, as He could change one’s fate in a moment. Therefore, both parent and child must respect Hashem, as He always provides for His children.
In his Sefer Esh Kodesh, the Piasetzener Rebbe, Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, relates a portion of Gemara (Berachot 28b) that also deals with fearing Hashem. When Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai fell deathly ill, and saw his disciples visiting him, he began to cry. His students begged him to bless them, and he blessed them, “May it be Hashem’s will that the fear of heaven be upon you like the fear of flesh and blood.” His disciples said to him, “Is that all you bless us with?” Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai responded, “If only you can attain this! You should know, when a man wants to commit a transgression, he says, ‘I hope nobody will see me.’” Is it possible, asks the Piasetzner Rebbe, that Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s disciples, who were exalted Tanaaim, did not fear heaven more than flesh and blood? And how were Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s disciples, great sages like Rabi Eliezer HaGadol, Rabi Yehoshua ben Chananiah, and Rabi Elazar ben Arach, connected to Rabi Yochanan’s last words, “You should know, when a man wants to commit a transgression, he says, ‘I hope nobody will see me?’” Lastly, asks the Piasetzener Rebbe, how could Rabi Yochanan say that Hashem would bless his students with the fear of heaven, which is not under Hashem’s control, as the Gemara (Megillah 25a) states, “Everything is in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven?”
The Piasetzener Rebbe answers by saying that a Jew is never completely excluded from the rest of Bnei Yisrael; even when a Jew is about to commit a transgression that will cause his exclusion, Hashem does not abandon him. Holy literature teaches that the Miluy of the three Hebrew letters – Yud, Tzadi, and Reish – that compose the word “Yetzer,” inclination, are (Y) Vav Daled, (Tz) Daled Yud, and (R) Yud Shin. The last letters of the Miluy are the three letters of Hashem’s name, Shakkai (Shin - Kuf - Yud). In order that a person should not succumb entirely to his evil inclination, the Holy Name of Shakkai is at the end, preventing his complete surrender to Yetzer HaRa. When a Jew reaches the end, Hashem does not allow him to fall any further. Therefore, it is conceivable to bless a Jewish person with the fear that he will not succumb completely to sin, because the prevention of such a tragedy is indeed in Hashem’s hands; however, it is not possible to bless someone with exalted fear, because such fear is entirely in the hands of the person himself, and he must rise to it alone. Accordingly, when Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s disciples asked him to bless them, he saw that their intention was that he would bless them with the fear of heaven. He replied that he could bless them only with fear that they not commit a low level transgression; they themselves would have to rise to a higher and more elevated fear.
The Piasetzener Rebbe delivered this Derashah in the Warsaw Ghetto. He believed that Hashem never completely abandons a Jew, even one deserving of such punishment, during a time when Jews were persecuted – their rights were stripped and they were herded into mortally crowded Ghettoes. But today, our proud country has endured and thrived for sixty years. When problems arise, people succumb to the Yetzer HaRa and believe that Hashem has abandoned them, so they in turn abandon Hashem, His nation and His country. Recently, we celebrated the holiday of Pesach, and statistics show that well over ninety percent of Israelis attended a Seder. Rav Benny Eisman, a Rav at Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, said that the theme of Pesach, especially the Seder, is really a spiritual redemption from the Yetzer HaRa and a return to Hashem. We must take this lesson of the Seder and the Piasetzener Rebbe to heart and realize that these Jews are "diamonds in the rough," and while it seems that their Yetzer HaRa is strong they are still members of Bnei Yisrael; and our responsibility is to show them that Hashem, Shakkai, is waiting and will never abandon them.