The 4th mitzvah is that we are commanded to establish in our minds fear and dread of G‑d (exalted be He); that we not be calm and nonchalant, but be constantly concerned of imminent punishment1 [for misdeeds.]
At3 the end of tractate Sanhedrin4, there is a discussion of G‑d’s statement5(exalted be He), “Anyone who is nokev (curses) G‑d’s Name shall be put to death.” [The Talmud asks:] “Perhaps the word nokev means, ‘utters,’ as in the verse6, ‘Who were mentioned (nikvu) by name’; the prohibition7 being the verse, ‘You shall fear G‑d your Lord.’ ”
The meaning of this question: “Perhaps the verse, ‘nokev G‑d’s Name’ means merely uttering G‑d’s Name even without a curse. And if one wonders ‘What prohibition can there be in this?’, it is [the prohibition not] to erase one’s fear of G‑d; because included in fear of G‑d is not mentioning His Name in vain.”8
The Talmud answers this question and rejects this approach as follows: “First of all, [in order to be punishable by death,] the person must have used ‘one Name against another,’ i.e. cursed one of G‑d’s Names with another of G‑d’s Names, as in the saying, ‘Let Yosi strike Yosi,’9 and [if he merely mentioned G‑d’s Name in vain,] he did not fulfill this condition.”
[The Talmud continues:] “Furthermore, this prohibition is stated as a positive commandment, and cannot technically serve as a prohibition.”
This means that the suggestion, “the prohibition is from the verse, ‘You shall fear G‑d,’ ” is incorrect, because this verse is a positive commandment, and a punishment can never be based on a positive commandment.
This passage clearly indicates that “You shall fear G‑d,” is a positive commandment.
|1.||Although here the Rambam describes the commandment as fear of punishment, in Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah, 2:1-2 and 4:12, he defines it as awe growing out of a realization of G‑d’s greatness.
See Kinas Sofrim on Sefer Hamitzvos, P9; On the Teachings of Chassidus, Ch. 13, footnote, regarding the greater precision of Mishneh Torah.
|3.||The Rambam now quotes and explains a Talmudic passage in order to prove that this mitzvah is a positive commandment. The passage deals primarily with another mitzvah, the prohibition of cursing G‑d, but makes important mention of our verse, “You shall fear G‑d.”
For the sake of clarity, we will quote the entire passage without the Rambam’s explanation:
“Perhaps the word nokev means, ‘utters,’ as in the verse, ‘Who were mentioned (nikvu) by name’; the prohibition being the verse, ‘You shall fear G‑d your Lord’!
“First of all, [in order to be punished,] the person must have used ‘one Name against another; and [if he merely mentioned G‑d’s Name in vain,] he did not fulfill this condition.”
“Furthermore, this prohibition is stated as a positive commandment, and cannot technically serve as a prohibition.”
|7.||Every punishable act in the Torah must have two verses describing it: one stating that the act is prohibited, and another dictating the particular punishment. The verse containing the punishment is clearly Lev. 24:16.
However, the verse setting forth the actual prohibition is in doubt. If nokev is translated, “curse” (as is indeed the conclusion), the actual prohibition comes from Ex. 22:27, “Do not curse G‑d.” Since the Talmud is attempting to translate nokev differently, i.e. “to mention,” it attempts to find another verse (namely, Deut. 6:13) to serve as the actual prohibition of mentioning G‑d’s Name.
|8.||According to the questioner, then, it is clear that the verse, “You shall fear G‑d” is a prohibition.|
|9.||When the court examined the witnesses who heard the curse uttered, the name “Yosi” was used instead of G‑d’s real Name, in order to minimize its use. “Yosi” was chosen because it has 4 letters, as does G‑d’s Name, and because it has the numerical value of 86, as does G‑d’s NameElokim. See Rashi on Sanhedrin.|