In the Mesilat Yesharim, the Ramchal brings the talmud in Shabbat 31b:

"Hen fear of God - this is wisdom" (Job 28:28). Our Sages of blessed memory commented (Shab 31b), "'Hen' [hints to] 'one', for in Greek 'one' is designated as 'Hen'".

The Ramchal interprets this:

Behold, that fear of G-d is considered wisdom - and this alone is [true] wisdom.

In original Hebrew:

והנה הכתוב אומר (איוב כח, כח): הן יראת ה' היא חכמה, ואמרו רבותינו ז"ל (שבת לא): "הן" אחת, שכן בלשון יוני קורין ל"אחת" הן. הרי שהיראה היא חכמה והיא לבדה חכמה

In what sense is fear of God alone wisdom?

  • Maybe because th wisdom is to atribute things to the primary cause
    – kouty
    Oct 25 '16 at 20:28
  • This is a pretty meaningless question, unless we know what is meant here by wisdom.
    – mevaqesh
    Oct 25 '16 at 23:59
  • I'd like to add that the passuk in Tehillim 111 says ראשית חכמה יראת ה׳ - the beginning of wisdom - but not the entirety of wisdom - is fear of God.
    – DonielF
    Oct 26 '16 at 1:11
  • 1
    @mevaqesh perhaps wisdom has many meanings and the answer to this question is the intended meaning here
    – ray
    Oct 26 '16 at 6:30
  • 1
    Whatever exactly your question is, consider clarifying it in the question, not the comments.
    – mevaqesh
    Oct 26 '16 at 6:57

Start by looking how the Ramchal defines yir'ah. Mesilas Yesharim ch. 24 distinguishes between fear of punishment and yir'as Shamayim -- fear of [the One in] heaven. Then he identifies two aspects of the latter: yir'as haRomemus -- awe of G-d's Grandeur, and yir'as hacheit -- fear of sin, which comes from that awe. He writes that the default concept of yir'ah without a qualifier is yir'as hacheit. To explain how it differs from fear of punishment, yir'as hacheit is fear of doing the wrong thing because it's the wrong thing. Someone with yir'as ha'onesh is afraid of being personally hurt, something with yir'as hacheit is afraid of defying what G-d wants as an end in itself.

Someone without yir'as hacheit, who has no fear of doing something that defies Hashem's Plan for their life and for creation, will never get beyond focusing on their physical needs, and will never learn to delay beyond immediate gratification to find real meaning. Such people will never grow beyond operating on the animal level.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner writes (Nefesh haChaim 4:5):

According to the measure of the “silo” of yir’ah that the person prepared for himself, it is by that same measure that the “grain” of Torah will be able to enter, guarded and fulfilled within him, according to what the silo can hold.

It is [like] a father who divides grain for his sons. He divides it out and gives each one a measure of grain to match what the son’s silo can hold, which he [the son] prepared beforehand. For even if the father wishes and his hand is open to give him more, the son cannot receive more since his silo is not big enough to hold more. So too the father cannot now give him more. And if the son did not prepare even a small silo, then also the father can not give him anything at all – for he has no guarded place where it will remain with him.

So too Hashem, may His name be blessed: His “Hand” is open, as it were, to constantly bestow every person according to his reward with much wisdom and extra understanding – when it will be preserved by them and will be tied onto the slate of their hearts. Everything [is given] according to the volume of one’s “silo.” And if a person does not prepare even a small silo, which is that he does not, heaven forbid, have within him any yir’ah whatsoever for Him, may He be blessed, so too He, may He be blessed, will not bestow any wisdom at all, since it will not be preserved by him. For his Torah would become disgusting, heaven forbid, as our Rabbis, whose memories are a blessing, said. It is about this that the verse says, “the beginning of wisdom is yir’as Hashem."

Someone who has no drive to pursue higher goals may have free will in principle, he lacks the countervailing drive to choose the spiritual path over the animal one. He doesn't speak the Torah's language.


I think it can be understood in light of his earlier comments: "Is it appropriate that we exert our intellects in speculation that we are not obligated in, in fruitless argumentation....and the great obligation to our Creator [which the Ramchal describes elsewhere as ideally being the central focus of one's life] we leave to mindless habit?"

In other words, because fear of God plays such a central role in the fulfillment of one's life's purpose, it is fundamentally different from other fields of knowledge. Relative to the others, it is the only 'true' field of knowledge - in the sense that it is the field of knowledge that has ultimate significance and consequence.

  • seems to me it implies in context there that it is also the most difficult of wisdom to grasp. do you agree?
    – ray
    Oct 26 '16 at 20:53
  • @ray I don't agree, but I see why you would think so. I see two distinct points in this statement and in the broader context as well: 1 - F.O.G.'s value vs other fields of knowledge, and 2 - the fact that F.O.G. is not simple and requires effort and study.
    – Jay
    Oct 26 '16 at 21:25

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