What does the term “God-fearing” mean to you? For some, it conjures images of Bible-thumping fundamentalists in the American south. It sounds like a characteristic of religious fanaticism, but to others it’s at the very core of religion. It’s certainly at the core of the passage we read every year on Shabbat Zakhor, the Shabbat before Purim.
“Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt–how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the LORD your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you…you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
Jeffrey Tigay, in the JPS commentary to Deuteronomy, says that “‘fear of God’ refers to the fear of divine punishment for killing innocent people…The point is that the Amalekites lacked the basic principles of morality common to all religions” (p. 236). From Tigay’s words, all religions share both a theology and a code of morality. Setting aside the theology of divine punishment let’s ask about the second common feature. Does the Torah give us any clues as to what that shared code of morality is?
On Shabbat morning, we’ll look at three other places where Biblical characters who are not “members of the tribe” are associated with the phrase “God-fearing.” If you would like to look them up in advance, they are Genesis 20:11, Genesis 42:18, and Exodus 1:17. By exploring these verses, we should be able to give some clarity to a “universal code of morality.”
Shabbat Shalom and Simhat Purim!
Rabbi David Wise