The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
The Fear of God.
The son of Rabbi Hunnah said, "He who possesses a knowledge of God's law, without the fear of Him, is as one who has been intrusted with the inner keys of a treasury, but from whom the outer ones are withheld."
Rabbi Alexander said, "He who possesses worldly wisdom and fears not the Lord, is as one who designs building a house and completes only the door, for as David wrote in Psalm 111th, 'The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord."
When Rabbi Jochanan was ill, his pupils visited him and asked him for a blessing. With his dying voice the Rabbi said, "I pray that you may fear God as you fear man." "What!" exclaimed his pupils, "should we not fear God more than man?"
"I should be well content," answered the sage, if your actions proved that you feared Him as much. When you do wrong you first make sure that no human eyes see you; show the same fear of God, who sees everywhere, and everything, at all times."
Abba says we can show our fear of God in our intercourse
with one another. "Speak pleasantly and kindly to every one;" he says, "trying to pacify anger, seeking peace, and pursuing it with your brethren and with all the world, and by this means you will gain that 'favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man,' which Solomon so highly prized." (Prov. 3: 9.)
Rabbi Jochanan had heard Rabbi Simon, son of Jochay, illustrate by a parable that passage of Isaiah which reads as follows: "I, the Lord, love uprightness; but hate robbery (converted) into burnt-offering."
A king having imported certain goods upon which he laid a duty, bade his officers, as they passed the custom-house, to stop and pay the usual tariff.
Greatly astonished, his attendants addressed him thus: "Sire! all that is collected belongs to your majesty; why then give what must be eventually paid into thy treasury?"
"Because," answered the monarch, "I wish travellers to learn from the action I now order you to perform, how abhorrent dishonesty is in my eyes."
Even so is it regarding the dealings of the Almighty with us, pilgrims on earth. Though all we possess belongs to Him, yet He adds to it continually, in order to increase our temporal enjoyment. Should any one imagine, therefore, that to defraud man in order to present to God, what is solely His own, might be allowable, he would be rebuked by the teachings of Holy Writ, for the just God condemns the act, and calls it hateful.
From this we may then infer, for instance, that palm-branches, stolen in order to perform therewith the prescribed rites at the Feast of Tabernacles, are unfit for use by reason of the unlawful manner in which they were obtained.
Rabbi Eleazer said: "He who is guided by righteousness and justice in all his doings, may justly be asserted to have
copied God in His unbounded beneficence. For of Him (blessed be His name) we read, 'He loveth righteousness and justice;' that is, 'The earth is filled with the loving kindness of God.'" Might we think that to follow such a course is an easy task? No! The virtue of beneficence can be gained only by great efforts. Will it be difficult, however, for him that has the fear of God constantly before his eyes to acquire this attribute? No; he will easily attain it, whose every act is done in the fear of the Lord.
"A crown of grace is the hoary head; on the way of righteousness can it be found."
So taught Solomon in his Proverbs. Hence various Rabbis, who had attained an advanced age, were questioned by their pupils as to the probable cause that had secured them that mark of divine favour. Rabbi Nechumah answered that, in regard to himself, God had taken cognisance of three principles by which he had endeavoured to guide his conduct.
First, he had never striven to exalt his own standing by lowering that of his neighbour. This was agreeable to the example set by Rabbi Hunna, for the latter, while bearing on his shoulders a heavy spade, was met by Rabbi Choana Ben Chanilai, who, considering the burden derogatory to the dignity of so great a man, insisted upon relieving him of the implement and carrying it himself. But Rabbi Hunna refused, saying, "Were this your habitual calling I might permit it, but I certainly shall not permit another to perform an office which, if clone by myself, may be looked upon by some as menial."
Secondly, he had never gone to his night's rest with a heart harbouring ill-will against his fellow-man, conformably with the practice of Mar Zutra, who, before sleeping, offered
this prayer: "O Lord! forgive all those who have done me injury."
Thirdly, he was not penurious, following the example of the righteous Job, of whom the sages relate that he declined to receive the change due him after making a purchase.
Another Rabbi, bearing also the name of Nechumah, replied to Rabbi Akiba, that he believed himself to have been blessed with long life because, in his official capacity, he had invariably set his face against accepting presents, mindful of what Solomon wrote, "He that hateth gifts will live." Another of his merits he conceived to be that of never resenting an offence; mindful of the words of Rabba, "He who is indulgent towards others' faults, will be mercifully dealt with by the Supreme Judge."
Rabbi Zera said that the merit of having reached an extreme age was in his case due, under Providence, to his conduct through life. He governed his household with mildness and forbearance. He refrained from advancing an opinion before his superiors in wisdom. He avoided rehearsing the word of God in places not entirely free from uncleanliness. He wore the phylacteries all day, that he might be reminded of his religious duties. He did not make the college where sacred knowledge is taught, a place of convenience, as, for instance, to sleep there, either occasionally or habitually. He never rejoiced over the downfall of a fellow-mortal, nor would he designate another by a name objectionable to the party personally, or to the family of which he was a member.