the beginning of wisdom . . .

A while back there was an unprecedented assembly of 40,000 frum Jews, attended by Rabbanim, rebbeim and Roshei Yeshivah to discuss the plague of internet shmutz. They were not concerned about non-observant Jews, who would not pay attention to them anyway. They were concerned about the epidemic that has affected frum Jews, that was corrupting men, breaking up marriages and destroying families. There were speeches about the gravity of the problem and the need to find ways to rein in the problem, by use of filters and whatever other techniques could be applied.

To the best of my knowledge, one question was not addressed. Many of the men trapped in internet addiction were very Torah-observant, who were makpid on chalav Yisrael, pas yashan, pas Yisrael and other chumros. Needless to say, they were strictly shomrei Shabbos and were meticulous about wearing tzitzis, putting on tefillin and their standards of kashrus. How come their observance of Torah failed to protect them from the internet shmutz?

What happened to bring about this great concern? After all, purveyors of shmutz have been around for decades. The answer is that people who were tempted to view shmutz would not go to these indecent shops for fear that someone might see them there. However, now that it is available on the computer, they can view it in the privacy of the home, office, or on a hand-held screen. No one can see them.

This brings to mind the episode in the Talmud, that when the great Rabi Yochanan ben Zakai fell ill, his students visited him and asked for a brachah. Rebbe Yohanan said, “May your fear of Hashem be as great as your fear of other people.” The students said, “Is that all you can tell us?” Rabi Yochanan said, “I wish you can achieve this. When a person wishes to commit a sin, he is careful that no other person sees him. He is not concerned that Hashem sees him” (Berachos 28b).

It is as simple as that. The internet problem is the result of a lack of yiras Shamayim. People who would avoid being seen in an indecent shop are not concerned that Hashem sees them in the privacy of the home or office.

But how could there be a lack of yiras Shamayim? We are talking about people who are Torah observant. Some are kollel scholars and yeshivah students, even keeping many chumros. There is only one possible conclusion. It is possible to be a Torah student and fully observant of mitzvos without yiras Shamayim!

But shouldn’t observance of mitzvos produce yiras Shamayim? Moshe Rabbeinu says a resounding, “No!” Here are his very words:

“Now, O Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you? Only to fear Hashem, your G-d, to go in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul. (And in the next sentence), to observe the commandments  of Hashem and His decrees which I command you today” (Devarim 10:12-13)

Note that Moshe places fear and love of Hashem and going in all His ways (middos) before observance of the mitzvos. In fact, he does not mention them until the following verse. It is clear that yiras Shamayim is a prerequisite for observance of mitzvos, and does not come about as a result of it. If one observes mitzvos without yiras Shamayim, one has missed the point.

If observance of mitzvos does not produce yiras Shamayim, how, then, should one attain it? The answer is simple. Yiras Shamayim is not taught by lecturing, by didactics. Yiras Shamayim  is produced by modeling. The very first paragraph of Shulchan Aruch reads, ”I have set Hashem before me always … a person’s actions and behavior is different when he is in the privacy of his home than when he is in the presence of a great king … how much more so if one will take to heart that one is in the present of the great King, Hashem, Who sees all his actions…one will promptly develop awe and fear of Hashem.”

There it is, spelled out clearly. If parents behave according to the awareness that every move they make, every word they say, is being scrutinized by Hashem, they and their children will develop yiras Shamayim.

We live in an era where the yetzer hara is dominant. The Talmudic prophesy in the last Mishnah of Sotah has been fulfilled. Modern society is a cesspool of immorality, and we must exert enormous energy if we wish our children to escape its noxious influence. We must model yiras Shamayim for them.

Another important path to yiras Shamayim — and according to Rambam, it is the only path — is to have some concept of the enormity of Hashem’s wisdom, by appreciating the wonders of His creation. This will lead to an awe of Hashem and admiration of His infinite greatness (Yesodei HaTorah 2:2). When is the last time parents have shared with their children the uncanny marvels of creation? When is the last time a Rosh Yeshivah lectured on what the Rambam says is the only way to attain yiras Shamayim?

Filters on the internet are indeed important, but it is common knowledge that filters can be overridden. We will not succeed in eliminating the plague of internet shmutz until we succeed in developing yiras Shamyim.

We cannot afford to be complacent. Our families and the very future of Yiddishkeit are at stake.