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Was Moshe a Comedian?

By: Rav Michael Unterberg

You would usually hope that the Gemara helps explain the Chumash, but sometimes it just makes things more confusing. In Perek 10, pasuk 12, Moshe states:


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12 Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to keep the LORD'S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?


Needless to say, if Moshe is claiming that fearing, loving and serving Hashem is not a big deal, he hasn’t made a very convincing case. His list seems very difficult to us. Surely, he wasn’t speaking facetiously? Moshe couldn’t have been trying out sarcastic stand up comedy here, right? (if you read the psukim in a Seinfeldy voice, you could almost be convinced otherwise!) That can’t be it.


In Tractate Berachot, 33b, there is a discussion of Moshe’s statement, that suggests an explanation.  


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Is fear of Heaven a minor matter that it can be presented as if God is not asking anything significant? Indeed, for Moses fear of Heaven is a minor matter. As Rabbi Ḥanina stated: It is comparable to one who is asked for a large vessel and he has one, it seems to him like a small vessel because he owns it. However, one who is asked for just a small vessel and he does not have one, it seems to him like a large vessel.


It's hard to understand this. Can Moshe our great teachers be so out of touch with his students? Just because it was easier for him to fear Hashem, he tells Bnai Yisrael that it isn’t a big deal? How could the most humble man misunderstand how difficult fearing, loving and serving Hashem with a full heart, etc. is for us? It's a difficult gemara to understand.  


It's easier to understand if we focus on the words “, “, “for your good”. Moshe understands that is difficult for us, but he’s reminding us that we aren’t living this was as a favor to Hashem. The proper way to see it is that He is helping us.


Imagine being told by a king that you can go to his treasury and carry out as many gold bars as you like. Or if Oprah gave a teenager a car and paid for their driving lessons. In those cases there may seem to be a difficult chore involved, but really that hard work is part of the gift itself.


Moshe is reminding us that Hashem not only gave us life, but a Torah to live by. It is the Torah which makes life so meaningful, and allows us to experience it to its full potential. So while Moshe understood that we find his list difficult, he is reminding us that the hard work is worth it. The harder the work, the greater the reward, for our own good.

Now why didn’t the Gemara say that? If you have a good answer, please let me know.




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