“And now Yisrael, what is Hashem asking of you? Merely to fear Hashem, to go in all of His ways, to love Him, and serve Him with all of your heart and soul.” – Devarim 10:12
In this pasuk, Moshe Rabbeinu set before the Jewish people the categories of human growth and accomplishments.
1. To fear Hashem.
2. To go in all of His ways.
3. To love Hashem.
4. To serve Him with all of you heart and your soul.
Each category is a world in and of itself and would take man a lifetime to accomplish. Together these four groupings comprise all of service to Hashem and are the measure of the perfection of the human.
Yet, amazingly, when Moshe introduces these concepts to the Jewish nation, he asks, “What does Hashem ask from you but this?” It’s as if to imply that it is but a small request.
The Gemara in Berachos is troubled by this and asks, “Is fear of Hashem a small thing?” The Gemara answers, “Yes, to Moshe it was a small thing. To a poor man, even small items seem valuable. However, to a wealthy man even vast sums seem small.”
Since Moshe had attained such spiritual perfection, these things seemed simple to him, hence he asked, “What does Hashem want from you but this?”
The difficulty with this Gemara is that it implies Moshe was using himself as the standard of measurement for the average person. It’s as if he were saying, “If I can reach this, then so can you.” Yet we know Moshe towered over every other human ever created. After 80 years of unparalleled growth, he spent 40 days without food, drink, or sleep, and was taught the entire Torah by Hashem. For the next forty years he was engaged in teaching that Torah to the Jewish people. At this point in his life, he is a giant of a man, and in no way can he be compared to the typical person. So while these things may not have seemed lofty to him, to his audience they were gargantuan. Why would Moshe use his own experiences as the measuring rod against which the average person should compare himself?
The answer to this question is based on a different perspective on human capacity. To gain that viewpoint, let us take a look at an interesting phenomenon.
Being Tied to a Peg in the Ground
In parts of Asia, the elephant remains the beast of choice for lugging heavy loads. As part of its workday, an adult elephant will pull logs weighing thousands of pounds through long stretches of forest undergrowth. Yet at night that same elephant will be controlled by being tied to a small peg in the ground.
While it’s clear to you and to me that a 14,000-pound creature can easily break away from the light ropes holding it, the reality is that it cannot – not because it isn’t motivated, and not because it doesn’t want to, but because in the elephant’s understanding it just can’t be done.
In this part of the world, shortly after birth the baby elephant is tied to a peg in the ground. At that stage in its development, it may weigh 250 pounds and isn’t strong enough to break the rope that holds it. From that point forward, every day of its life the elephant will be tied to that peg in the ground. Even when the animal has reached maturity and will be called upon to lug felled trees weighing over 4,000 pounds, it will remain tied to a small peg. The understanding is firmly fixed in its mind: it can’t escape.