Yeshayahu 29:13 reads:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲדֹנָ֗י יַ֚עַן כִּ֤י נִגַּשׁ֙ הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה בְּפִ֤יו וּבִשְׂפָתָיו֙ כִּבְּד֔וּנִי וְלִבּ֖וֹ רִחַ֣ק מִמֶּ֑נִּי וַתְּהִ֤י יִרְאָתָם֙ אֹתִ֔י מִצְוַ֥ת אֲנָשִׁ֖ים מְלֻמָּדָֽה׃

For as much as this people draw near, and with their mouth and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear of Me is a commandment of men learned by rote.

Could someone explain me the meaning of the words: 'their fear of Me is a commandment of men learned by rote?'

These words reminded me of the people whom stood at Har Sinai, they feared HaShem, they proclaimed the famous words 'na'aseh v'nishma', but their hearts seem to be far from Him at the moment they made the calf. Are their any commentators connecting this verse from Yeshayahu and the story of the chet ha'egel?

2 Answers 2


To answer your first question: "Could someone explain me the meaning of the words: 'their fear of Me is a commandment of men learned by rote'?"

Rashi comments on that verse

Because this people has come near: Jonathan renders: Because this people has aggrandized itself. I.e., they have come near to raise themselves up to the heavens. They show themselves as though honoring Me with mouth and lip, but their heart they have drawn far away from Me.

and their fear of Me has become: not wholehearted, but by the command of the people who teach them, they show themselves as humbled before Him in order to entice Him with your mouth.

The text comments that the people are not expressing a sincere emotion, but simply reciting empty words and doing what they are taught without understanding or feeling, because they think that simply going through the motions or following rules is enough to satisfy God.

I'm not sure that it is right to say that at Sinai the people didn't feel what they said or that this can be proven by the eigel. The question of sincerity is broached when considering the medrash that the mountain was hung over their heads, but that is answered at the Purim story (kiymu vkiblu).

  • I don’t think that they were insincere, but somehow their eyes (perceptions) and hearts (emotions/thougts) led them astray. They proclaimed to do and lissen to all the teachings of G-d, yet they didn’t. There must beva reason they drawn away from the teachings of G-d. Maybe they depended to much on Moshe, and with him gone, they followed the teachings of men rather then the teachings of G-d?
    – Levi
    Feb 13, 2019 at 13:37
  • The Malbim explains that they practiced things out of habit, not belief, without understanding or intent and that they said things but their hearts were not in it from the get go.
    – rosends
    Feb 13, 2019 at 17:07
  • found this online: kby.org/english/torat-yavneh/view.asp?id=3988 “The midrash asks, how could Bnei Yisrael drop to sin so quickly?; on the passuk, they have strayed quickly (Shemot 32:8). The midrash (Shemot Rabbah 42:7) cites various opinions begin to contemplate making the calf. R. Meir says, it was not even one day. Rather they were standing at Mt. Sinai and said with their mouths, na’aseh v’nishma, while their hearts were intending for idolatry, as it says: they sought to beguile Him with their mouth (Tehillim 78:36).”
    – Levi
    Feb 15, 2019 at 14:20

So, as far as your first question, the Malbim explains that they were acting insincerely. Their actions were born out of habit rather than by truly fulfilling the command of G-d.

He writes here:

ולכן ותהי יראתם אתי גם יראתם הוא רק מצות אנשים ורק מלומדה ומורגלת, ר"ל כי יש יעשה המצות רק מצד שכן הורגל מנעוריו והונהג עליהם, מבלי כונה ומחשבה ובכ"ז יודע שהם מצות ה', אבל הם לא יעשום מפני שצום ה' כלל רק מפני שכן צוום הוריהם ואבותיהם, וגם זאת מבלי דעת איזה טעם להמצוה רק מצד הלימוד וההרגל כי ע"י טענות כאלה יתפקרו להכחיש בכלל שיצוה ה' לאדם מצות וחקים

And therefore (it says) "their fear to me" (which means to say) their fear is only "a commandment of men" and only "learned by rote" out of regularity, which means that when they do mitzvos they do so only because they are used to doing it from their youth and they are accustomed to it without any intention or thought, and because of this they know the commandments of Hashem. But they don't do them because Hashem commanded them at all but rather only because Hashem commanded their parents and their forefathers. Also this (way of behaving) is without any knowledge of what are the reasons for the command. It is only (borne out of) habit, and it is through claim such as this that a person will give up and will deny that Hashem commanded man with his commandments and statutes... (my translation)

In a similar vein, the Metzudas Dovid adds that their actions weren't truly heartfelt.

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