The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7
A story is told about a man who was walking through a forest when he saw a tree with an arrow entrenched exactly in the center of a target. Impressed, the man took note but continued his walk only to find another tree a few yards away, again with an arrow exactly in the center of the target. As he continued on, he saw another tree with a perfect hit, and then another and still another. After about 10 trees, the man decided that he must find this talented archer and recruit him for the King's army.
After searching, he found a man shooting arrows. "Are you the man who has shot the arrows at the trees in this forest?" asked the traveler. "I am," replied the archer. "I must ask you," inquired the traveler, "how did you become such a proficient archer, hitting the mark every time?" The archer explained, "It was easy. I simply shot arrows at the trees. Then I drew the targets around the spot that I had hit!"
This story is used to illustrate how when someone is more interested in his or her agenda than in accuracy, they can easily falsify or misrepresent the truth. To put it another way, when someone wants a self-serving answer, they will find one. When someone wants "facts" to support a theory they hold dear, they will discover them or distort them. One cannot come to truth while attached to a false ideal.
This is why in the first chapter of Proverbs, King Solomon teaches us, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge." The Jewish sages ask what one has to do with the other. We can all think of people who fear the LORD, but who are not very intelligent, while there are others who are simply brilliant, but who do not fear the LORD.
The answer is that "fear of the LORD" is the context in which we must strive for truth. In this verse, fear is about reverence. It's about seeing God as the Supreme Being and ultimate decider of good and evil instead of our naturally biased selves. It's making God our "truth" by which we measure all other ideas, values, and behavior. It is only in such a context that we can hope to attain true, untainted wisdom.
If we want to find the truth, we have to begin with it. We must start from the point of knowing that God is the LORD Who created the heavens and earth. If we are sincere in our pursuit of knowledge, we will find wisdom that is "more precious than gold . . . and . . . sweeter than honey" (Psalm 19:10).
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President