Fear God More Than People
Yael Eckstein | March 10, 2023
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” — Esther 4:16
This month, my family and I will join Jews around the world in celebrating Purim, a joyous holiday that commemorates the story of Queen Esther and her courageous stand that saved her people, the Persian Jews, from annihilation.
The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai, the greatest rabbi of his time, on his deathbed. His disciples were gathered around him anticipating his final words before the revered rabbi would pass on to the next world. When Rabbi Yohanan finally spoke, his words stunned the students.
“May your fear of God be as great as your fear of people.”
“Is that sufficient?” one of the students asked incredulously. “If only it were so,” Rabbi Yohanan answered.
Even as people of faith, if we are honest, we would admit that we are much more wary of what people think of us on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis, than we are of God. We are more afraid that some person will see us doing something questionable than we are that God sees us.
True devotion to God requires that we overcome our fear of human beings in favor of our fear of God. As the rabbi instructed his students, we must all fear God more than people.
Fear God More Than People
As queen of Persia, Esther had one of the most secure positions in the empire. But although she was queen, Esther knew she was safe only so long as she did nothing to incur the king’s wrath. Like her predecessor who was killed for disobeying, Esther was in grave danger if she made the wrong move.
So, when Mordecai told her of Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews in the empire, Esther was faced with a choice: Either she could remain silent and hope that the king would not discover her Jewish identity, or she could risk death by appearing before the king, revealing her true identity, and seeking relief for her people.
Here is her answer to Mordecai, “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
In this moment, Esther showed that her fear of God was indeed greater than her fear of King Xerxes. And because of her powerful faith and courage, the Jews were spared destruction.
We are all faced with dilemmas at some point that challenge us to fear God more than people. Let’s take a lesson from Queen Esther and rise to the occasion.