Fear of Heaven

Day 7:
How Can I Love and Fear God?

וּבַעֲבוּר הָעֲנָוָה, תַּעֲלֶה עַל לִבְּךָ מִדַּת הַיִּרְאָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי כב ד): עֵקֶב עֲנָוָה, יִרְאַת ה’ 


As is written (Proverbs 22:4), “The return for humility is fear of God.”  Through humility you will also come to fear God. 

In Duties of the Heart, two types of fear of God are discussed.

  1. Fear of G-d’s punishment and trial. When a person fears G-d only out of fear of what will bring him suffering and ruin, because if he were assured against the suffering, he would not fear G-d. Of such a person, our sages said: “let us be concerned lest he come to serve out of fear” (Megila 25b). This type of person is falling short in the levels of the fear of G-d, and this is what our sages warned us against in saying: “Be not like servants who minister unto their master for the sake of receiving a reward” (Avos 1:3).

  2. Awe inspired by His glory, exaltedness, and almighty power. This awe never parts from a man for all the days of his life. It is the highest of the levels of the G-d fearing, which are mentioned in the books which deal with this topic. It is the introductory path to pure love, and the painful yearning. Whoever reaches this level of fear of G-d, will not be frightened by anything nor fear anything besides the Creator, as one of the pious would tell over on a G-d fearing man which he found sleeping in the wilderness. He asked the man: “are you not afraid of lions, that you sleep in a place like this?”. The man answered: “I would be ashamed before G-d, if He saw me afraid of any other than Him”.

One cannot acquire wisdom without acquiring the fear of heaven, as it is said “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God” (Psalms 11:10)

Maimonides says that a person who fears God is someone who does not measure his worth by comparing himself to other human beings, but instead understands how small he is compared to the Almighty. 

The way to fathom the scope of Hashem is to look around at the complexity and majesty of the world He created. As King David writes, “when I behold the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place”, (Psalms 8:4)

(Adapted from A Letter For the Ages, pages 44-46)

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Rav Soloveitchik explained the episode in terms of his own well-known characterization of the religious life as a dialectic between victory and defeat, majesty and humility, man-the-creative-master and man-the-obedient-servant. Thus the binding of Isaac was not a once-only episode but rather a paradigm for the religious life as a whole. We must remember that humans were given intellect and free will, and that precisely because we pride ourselves on our power of reason, the Torah includes chukkim, statutes, that are impenetrable to reason and we follow them because of our love and fear of the Almighty. 

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