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The First Commandment

189. BERESHEET BARA HELOKIM (In the beginning the Creator created) is the first Mitzva (commandment), the root and foundation of everything. And it is called “fear of the Creator” or Resheet (beginning), as it is written: “Fear of the Creator is the beginning of wisdom.” Fear of the Creator is the beginning of wisdom, for this fear is called “the beginning.” And it is the gate that leads to faith. And the whole world is based on this Mitzva.

It is difficult to understand why fear is called “the beginning,” and why it precedes wisdom and faith. The Zohar answers: it is because fear is the beginning of every Sefira, and it is impossible to attain any Sefira (property) without first attaining the property of fear. Yet, this implies that fear is merely a means of attaining other qualities or properties. But then, if it is only a means, then why is it included in the list of Mitzvot (plural for Mitzva) as the first Mitzva? Can it be that fear is a kind of prerequisite?

Therefore, The Zohar says that it is impossible to attain perfect, selfless faith in any way other than through fear of the Creator. And the extent of fear will determine the extent of faith. Hence, the whole world is based on the Mitzva of fear, for the whole world exists only thanks to the Torah and Mitzvot, as the prophet said: “If not for My union with day and night, I would not have appointed the ordinances of Heaven and earth” (Yirmiyahu, 33:25).

And since fear is the beginning and the gate to the other Mitzvot (for fear is also the gate to faith), the whole world is based on this property of fear. It is hence written that the Mitzva of fear includes all of the other Mitzvot of the Torah; and were it not for fear, the Creator would not have created anything.

190. There are three types of fear, two of which have no real basis, but one does. If man fears that his children may die, or fears illness or bodily suffering, or fears for his material well-being, this kind of fear (even if constant) is not the basis or root, for only desirable consequences constitute the cause of fear. This is called “the fear of punishment in this world.” But there is also another type of fear: the fear of punishment in the world to come, in hell. These two types of fear – the fear of punishment in this world and in the world to come – do not constitute real basis and root.

191. The real fear is the fear of the Creator, for He is great and almighty, for He is the Source of everything, and all else is nothing compared to Him. Man should concentrate all his attention on attaining this kind of fear.

There are three kinds of fear before the Creator, but only one of them is considered true fear. If one is afraid of the Creator, and observes His Mitzvot so he and his children will be well and prosperous, this constitutes the first kind, the fear of the various punishments in this world. If he observes the Creator’s Mitzvot because he fears punishments in hell, this is the second kind of fear. The Zohar says that neither of these two kinds is true, for man observes the Mitzvot only out of fear of punishment, for the sake of his own benefit, and not because these are the Creator’s Mitzvot.

In this case, his personal wellbeing is the cause of his observance, and his fear is merely a consequence of his will to receive pleasure. Rather, true fear must stem from the Creator’s greatness and omnipotence, for He rules over all and is the source of everything. All the worlds emerge from Him, and His deeds testify to His greatness. And all that He created is nothing compared to Him, for it adds nothing to Him.

Thus, we can plainly see that there is no difference in action: one observes out of the first or second kinds of fear, while the other observes out of the third kind. To an onlooker, they perform the same actions, the Creator’s Mitzvot. But the enormous difference between them lies only in their intention, their motivation – why they observe the Creator’s decree!

Hence, it is impossible to discern man’s spiritual degree by his external observance of the Mitzvot, which is visible to all. Moreover, those who observe them in order to receive an immediate reward from others usually do so with the utmost outward zeal. But one whose intentions and thoughts are directed inwardly, who seeks true observance, as a rule, does not stand out amidst the masses in any way.

One must constantly seek to perfect and complement his intentions only by observing the Mitzvot at an increasingly deeper level, while focusing on inner contemplation and direction of his thoughts. In no way should he engage in excessive “mechanical observance,” on which there is a clear prohibition: “Do not exaggerate in the Mitzvot.”

On the contrary, one must devote all his attention to the attainment of true fear, as the Creator’s first Mitzva decrees. As Rabbi Baruch Ashlag said, “Fear of the Creator is the constant, selfless desire that is expressed in the thought: ‘Have I done everything I could for the Creator, or is there anything more that I can do for Him?’”

192. Rabbi Shimon started to weep, wailing, “Woe if I reveal and woe if I do not reveal: If I say, the sinners will know how to work for the Creator’s sake, and if I do not say, it will not reach my friends. Wherever there is true fear, opposite it and correspondingly below stands an evil fear, which strikes and prosecutes. It is the scourge that whips the sinners (punishing them for their sins). This is why he is afraid to reveal it, for the sinners may learn how to avoid punishment, and punishment constitutes their correction!

Here Rabbi Shimon warns that he cannot reveal everything in its entirety (this refers to “Avoda Lishma” – work “for the Creator’s sake”), for he fears it may harm the sinners. Here he wishes to reveal how one can draw nearer and merge with the Tree of Life, and therewith refrain from touching the Tree of Death. However, this refers only to those who have already corrected themselves with regard to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Nevertheless, the sinners (those who have yet to correct their transgressions in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) are not entitled to know this, for they still need to toil in all the required tasks until they correct themselves in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Thus we see that the Torah defines a sinner as one who is yet to correct the Tree of Knowledge in his soul.

The prohibition on revealing the true essence of the work for the Creator’s sake is based on the words of the Torah: “Behold, Adam has become as one of us in knowledge of good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the Tree of Life, and eat, and live forever” (Beresheet, 3:22).

After Adam’s sin in the Tree of Knowledge, the Creator banished him from the Garden of Eden to prevent Adam from connecting to the Tree of Life and gaining eternal life. This is because then, what he corrupted in the Tree of Knowledge would remain uncorrected. Therefore, to let only the righteous know this wisdom, Rabbi Shimon reveals it by way of allusion.

193. But he who fears the punishment by whippings, the true fear of the Creator cannot descend upon him. Instead, evil fear overtakes him in the form of fearing punishment by whipping.

194. Therefore, the place that is named “fear of the Creator” is called the beginning of knowledge. This is why this Mitzva is included here. And it is the foundation and source of all the other Mitzvot of the Torah. And whoever observes the Mitzva of fear of the Creator, thereby observes all the others. But he who does not observe the Mitzva of fear of the Creator, does not observe the other Mitzvot of the Torah, for this Mitzva constitutes the foundation for all the others.

Here The Zohar repeats that in one place it is written, “Fear of the Creator is the beginning of wisdom,” while in another it says, “Fear of the Creator is the beginning of knowledge.” And The Zohar explains that where the property of fear ends, another evil fear begins, one that slanders and whips. In this regard, it is said in Kabbalah that the legs of a pure Partzuf Malchut descends to a place of impure forces.

However, he who observes the Mitzva of fear because the Creator is great and almighty unites with Him (becomes equal to the Creator in his properties), so as to not feel shame in receiving from Him. Besides this correction, no other work exists for the creatures.

This is called “fear of the Creator for the sake of life,” for as a result of merging with the Creator, creatures are filled with life. Otherwise, they fall under the power of the restriction, as Tzimtzum Aleph (first restriction) restricted the reception of Light in egoistic desires. Such a Kli (desire) becomes a cause of death, for it is an empty place (devoid of Light). Hence, creatures must fear failing to make the corrections that they were entrusted with.

However, those who observe the Mitzvot out of fear, rather than out of realization of the Creator’s greatness and His decree, are ruled and whipped by the fear of an empty Malchut. And since the end of fear lies in the evil scourge, true fear is called “The beginning of knowledge of the fear of the Creator,” which indicates the necessity to aspire only to this kind of fear, and beware of the evil kind. Because of this, Adam’s sin is corrected.

195. Therefore, it is written, “IN THE BEGINNING” (signifying fear) THE CREATOR CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH. For whoever transgresses here, transgresses all of the Torah Mitzvot. And his punishment is the evil scourge, i.e., the evil fear that whips him. The words, “AND THE EARTH WAS UNFORMED AND CHAOTIC, AND DARKNESS WAS UPON THE FACE OF THE DEEP, AND THE SPIRIT OF THE CREATOR” refer to the four punishments of the wicked.

196. WITHOUT FORM refers to strangulation. CHAOTIC refers to stoning, i.e., the stones that fall into the great deep to punish the sinners. DARKNESS signifies burning, the fire that falls upon the heads of the wicked to burn them down. THE SPIRIT OF THE CREATOR refers to beheading.

Those who observe the Mitzva of fear before the Creator not because such is His decree, but because they are afraid of punishment, fall into the impure force’s trap, called “without form.” As a result, they are lost, having no understanding of the Creator’s thoughts and deeds. And this impure force is defined as a rope on man’s neck, blocking the inflow of pure (holy) air to his soul and preventing him from gaining life. And to the extent of man’s ignorance, the impure force strangulates him!

And when he is caught in the impure force’s noose, tightening around his neck, it has the power to control man at its will: to stone, burn, or behead him. Stoning means that impure thoughts befall his head with desired pleasures, thus pulling him down into the deep. There they punish him with darkness (burning), and the impure force turns him on fierce fire until it burns all the pure life-force out of him.

197. The spirit of the Creator means beheading, for the scorching wind (Ruach Se’ara) is a flaming sword – punishment for whoever does not observe the Torah and Mitzvot that are mentioned after the Mitzva of fear, called “foundation,” as it includes all the Mitzvot. This is because after the word BERESHEET (BEGINNING), which signifies fear, it is written WITHOUT FORM, CHAOS, DARKNESS and SPIRIT – in all, the four penalties of death. And then follow the rest of the Torah and Mitzvot.

Following the first sentence of the Torah, the remaining part of the Torah refers to the rest of the Mitzvot, which are particular with regard to the general and all-inclusive Mitzva of fear.

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