Rosh Hashanah – Yom Kippur: Times of Fear and Awe and Love – Part 4

We have seen the essentiality of yiras Hashem (fear of G-d), the sheer fundamentality of that crucial middah (part one). We have seen how Chazal realized that if only we would internalize Hashem’s “keeping tabs” on us the way we would fear “WebChaver,” we would be way ahead of the game; and we learned the difference between fear of punishment and actual awe of Hashem (part two); we learned a natural pathway to reach the higher-level yirah, yiras haromemus (awe), as per Rambam’s and Chovos Halevavos’s exhortations to study and contemplate Hashem’s wondrous and amazing beri’ah and to reach some form of recognition of the greatness and absoluteness of the Ribbono Shel Olom, the puniness of man; and the infinitely absurd possibility of violating His will… and we suggested a logical way to tap into that, daily – fulfilling the hundred-brachos-a-day obligation, and thinking, really thinking, about what the brachah is saying and the larger message that it represents (part three).

To further understand this, it is necessary to realize the other side of the coin – that is to say, how, complementing fear and awe, should be a love for, and desire to bond with, Hakadosh Baruch Hu. In everyday life, this translates as wanting to get to know Him, both through studying Torah and, once again, knowing the beri’ah. Also, the more ruchani we are, the less caught up in the temporal and physical parts of our being we are, the less petty we are, the more giving and selfless we are, the more we are able to be part of Hashem’s reality. All this translates into love, or bonding.

The Ramban (Shmos 20:7) suggests that the middah of ahavah inspires a person to focus on the mitzvos assei, in which a person is in a loving, giving, middas rachamim mode; while yirah is restrictive and middas hadin-oriented, in which a person who is afraid would refrain from doing acts unpleasant to the master. This is echoed by the Rav in Pirkei Avos 1:3, who writes, “Serve Hashem out of a sense of joy, serve Him out of a sense of fear – serve Him with joy, so that you will not turn antagonistic towards Him (as excessive fear is apt to do); serve Him with fear, so that your familiarity not breed contempt… Serving with fear will, in general, make one more careful about violating prohibitions; serving with love and joy will, in general, make one more excited to perform positive acts for Hashem.” The Ramban, in fact, goes on to suggest that this is the inner reason for the legality which teaches us that when a positive mitzvah and a negative commandment are in conflict, the positive one takes precedence (this is known as assei docheh lo ta’aseh) – because ahavah-inspired avodah supercedes a yirah-driven one. Now, clearly, a person may perform positive mitzvos due to fear that he will be punished if he does not do them; and a person may refrain from negative acts as a result of love of Hashem; nevertheless, Ramban’s and Rav’s point is that the root, the fountainhead, of positive actions is love, which is expansive in nature, seeks to give, reaches out, and inspires and spurs me to form a relationship; whereas fear, even the higher-level fear of awe, trepidation and reverence, ultimately restricts and turns inward, keeping a distance. Hence it is seen as the bedrock of the keeping of negative commandments.

There is a fascinating question by the Kinas Sofrim, a sefer written as a commentary on the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos, the answer to which gains us further insight. Why is it, he asks, that if a person “merely” fears the punishment of aveiros, he fulfills the mitzvah of yiras Hashem (as the Rambam states clearly in Sefer Hamitzvos), whereas it seems a given that if one did positive actions for the wrong reason, say for reward and credit, one is not fulfilling ahavas Hashem. Why that dichotomy? The answer seems clear: When I fear being punished, that indeed translates into fearing the one who has that ability to punish me. For fear does not define the relationship. I may fear you, but that is not the inner essence of our bond – for fear is not a bonding force at all. Thus, I fear one who can punish me. Thus, ironically, even low-level fear of punishment fulfills the mitzvah of yiras Hashem.

But to love is to bond, to give, to share, to feel close to, to want to be part of, to want to give joy to – to fulfill that mitzvah, I have to truly form the intrinsic, elemental relationship – waiting for a payoff indeed doesn’t do that!

And so, we may posit that yirah, whether the low-level fear of punishment or the higher-level awe of yiras horomemus, is the bedrock, the underpinnings, the safety net of our keeping Torah u’mitzvos, while ahavah takes us beyond, into forming a positive, thriving, pulsating always-active interconnection with the Almighty.

The shofar of Rosh Hashanah has both messages for us, as we prepare for the renewal which these coming days have the potential to bring. “Shall a shofar sound in a city and those residing therein not fear?” It heralds the Yom Hadin when even the forces in heaven tremble lest they be found wanting (as we say in the Unesaneh Tokef prayer). Yet, probably even more fundamentally, we thereby proclaim Hashem’s sovereignty, as we exult in that – for we are subjects under the control of the King of Kings, who is Avinu Malkeinu, who, loves, nurtures, and cares for us.

This, rabbosai and ladies, explains the dichotomy of the day of Rosh Hashanah – we fear, we cry, we tremble – yet we eat, drink, and take joy, even rapture, as we place ourselves under His jurisdiction and loving rule.

A k’sivah v’chasimah tova to all.

Rav Malinowitz is the Rav of Beis Tefillah Yonah Avraham, located in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, at the corner of Nachal Refaim and Nachal Luz. Many of Rav Malinowitz’s shiurim can be heard at

Nitzavim/Vayeilach – Shabbos Bulletin and Tefilla Halacha

Shabbos Bulletin – Netzavim Vayeilach

A person entering a Shul or a Beis Medrash for a personal matter,must stop and say a possuk , or a Tefillah , or just sit or stand there about 3 seconds.This allows his entering to be seen as entering for a dvar mitzvah,not for personal use.(just sitting in a shul is considered a  dvar mitzvah)This last idea(just sitting) should only be used if for some reason saying a possuk or a Tefillah is not possible.

Saying the “13 Attributes” (Middos of HaShem) is a דבר שבקדושה and requires a minyan to say it.If an individual is saying selichos without a minyan ,one eitzah is to  read the words as it appears in the possuk,complete with the ‘trop’ (ta’amei mikrah).Another is to simply skip it.

The minhag is that when one hears the tzibbur saying the 13 Middos, he says it along witth them.One should NOT do so if in the middle of pesukei d’zimra , and of course not in the middle of birchos keri’as Shema.

Ki Savo – Shabbos Bulletin and Tefilla Halacha

Ki Savo Bulletin in PDF format

When davening at kivrei Tzadikim (say, for example,Me’oras HaMachpeila) one must take care not to daven TO those buried there; according to MB, one should not even be asking those Tzadikim to daven for  us;  rather, one davens to be helped bizechusom ( in their merit)….however, according to many, it is legitimate to ask that they daven for us.

Of course, those not in Chevron do not have to worry about this, at least not this Shabbos.

When in a place , especially a room, that is a mokom Tefillah, but also a tourist site (say, for example, Me’oras HaMachpeila ) one has to remember that it has kedushas Beis K’nesses, and act there accordingly.

Of course,those not in Chevron do not have to worry about this, at least not this Shabbos.

Elul: Time of Fear and Awe – Part 3

As we creep closer and closer to Rosh Hashana… over the halfway mark… we are looking, searching, for some formula which will pull us out of the quicksand of habit, the morass of the status quo. True, there is no quick fix for easy change, but perhaps there is something that can jolt us into real renewal. The shofar I am hearing every morning doesn't quite seem to be doing the trick. I guess I'm hearing it, but not listening to it. I wonder if it's a sound of silence to me…

Perhaps… perhaps – internalizing fear of Hashem! Something to "keep me honest, " keep me at a "baseline" of behavior, keep me from thinking or acting or living as if I will not really have to give an accounting, an explanation, a rationale… someday, to Somebody…

The Mesilas Yesharim talks of level one fear of Hashem – fear of punishment. Low-level, he says, almost childish(would that we be that child!).

Level two – awe, even embarrasement, at the idea of negating the will of the Almighty. The question is, how can we connect to this abstract? Let's peek into the Rambam, who exhorts us to examine the wonders of creation (and this includes the entire gamut of the physical world, biology, the " laws" of physics, of chemistry, astronomy, of "nature," of all of the natural world – and thus, the Rambam continues, when a person does so, he realizes Hashem's wondrous creations and handiwork, and sees the tremendous wisdom and complexity which is limitless and boundless – a person immediately is struck with an immense love for Hashem, and a desire to know Hashem, the Creator of all the cosmos, from the quark to the Milky Way and beyond; and, while contemplating this, the person steps back, as it were, and is awe-struck, realizing that s/he is but an inferior creation, lowly and helpless, standing with the puny intelligience that we have before the All-Knowing, omniscient, Hashem.

This, I would think, is a way to develop the "second-level" yiras Hashem… by studying Creation and its wonders, by seeing how the most amazing complexities all "come together" to work; one is awestruck, and feels small and insignificant as a creation of this Almighty Power.

(We actually did this in our shul, BTYA, for many months.This was done upon the instructions of the Chovos Halevavos, who wrote about these subject matters over one thousand years ago (!), based on the science of his time – thus, Sha'ar Habechinah, the obligation one has to examine our wondrous universe (and others?) and, in the Chovos Halevavos's system, develop an immense appreciation and hakaras hatov to the Ribbono Shel Olom. And so in our daily Chovos Halevavos shiur (at the shul, 9 p.m. daily), we, at that time, devoted five minutes to an "updated" Sha'ar Habechinah, where we prepared and talked about everything in our amazing 5770 beriah – history, science, laws of "nature," anything and everything relating to mah gadlu ma'asecho Hashem, and mah rabu ma'asecho Hashem (we will bli neder explore the difference between those two statements one day).

And, Rabbosai – and ladies – it works! Five minutes a day, but day after day, you will develop the Rambam's ahava, and you then almost literally change to a feeling of smallness and inconsequence – and a subsequent palpable – yes, fear. Second level fear, that is – fear, awe, reverence, worship, intimidation, and enormous wonder. And then, as if by magic, a personal encounter with humility, meekness, and self-abnegation (bitul ) to the Creator of all, the Melech Ha'olom. And a definite determination and sense of actual impossibility to abrogate and oppose His will. And you say – so that's what the Rambam, and the Mesilas Yesharim, were talking about!

(We will skip over the third-level yiras Hashem of the Mesilas Yesharim, which is a kind of lifestlye of proactiveness in yirah – anticipating, being somewhat apprehensive and constantly "on –guard" lest sin occur. Not reactionary, but energetic and even eager to prevent sin.This is Yaakov Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu's putting a muzzle on their camels, lest they eat from someone's field. Maybe. Conceivably. Perhaps. This is taking steps before it is too late, making a personal geder, as it were, to hinder and obviate violations of Hashem's will. This is a topic in and of itself, which we will one day bli neder retun to.

Okay, Rabbi – how does the average fellow or lady do what you described, or even come close? We're not about to crack open science books and history books, studying Hashem's manifestation and presence in the beri'ah. (Why not? The Rambam says to do so! Let me try out a word I have learned here in Israel – kachah!)

There is a way!I can suggest a way to make appreciation for the bri'ah real enough, possible enough, doable enough that a person will then use that as a springboard for yir'as Hashem.And just in time for Rosh Hashanah, the New Year.

The Gemara in Menachos (43B) states that a person is obligated to say 100 brachos every day. This halachah is codified in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 46:3. There are various explanations and interpretations regarding this halacha. What I find most facinating is its source, a remez (a hint) in a posuk in the Torah (Devarim 10:12) – "And now, Yisroel (Moshe speaking to the Nation), what does Hashem require of you but to fear Hashem…"- a possuk that the Gemara uses in other contexts to teach the rudiments and essentiality of yir'as Hashem (see Brachos 33B; Shabbos 31B). And this very posuk is used as the source of the 100 brachos obligation.The Maharsha in Menachos explains that the 100-brachos rule is the way Chazal saw as making achievable by everyone the goal of yir'as Hashem – by making 100 brachos every day! This is actually echoed by the Rambam who writes in Hilchos Brachos 1:4 that the reciting of brachos makes one regularly cognizant of Hakodosh Baruch Hu, and leads to fear of Hashem!!

How's that? Exactly the way we have explained it! When you make a brachah with kavana, (which immediately upon reading this article you will start doing), thinking about what you are saying; appreciating, acknowledging, and understanding the multi-layered world of almost infinite intricacy, thanking Hashem for providing it – then, of course, as the Rambam says: You become awe-struck, realizing that you are a totally dependant creature, lowly and helpless, and so utterly vulnerable and relying on Hashem.

Work on 100 on kavana. Work on the feeling of total subservience and gratitude – and develop the greatest shmirah that will change your lie – yir'as Hashem

Concluding article next week, im yirtzeh Hashem.

On Wednesday Sep't 1, eve of 23 Elul, Rav Yechiel Spira is returning to RBS, to give a presentation of his report of over 70 food-selling establishments in RBS/BS. It will take place in Ulam Shabsai, at Beis Tefillah, corner Refa'im and Luz, at 8:30 p.m. (suggested donation – 10 NIS).After the lecture, there will be questions taken, and answered.

Afterwards, the first-time ever RBS/BS Kashrus guide, produced by Rav Yechiel, as commissioned by Beis Tefillah, will be available for sale. Be there, and become a knowledgeable kosher consumer!

Elul: Time of Fear and Awe – Part 2

We have seen that fear of G-d, yiras Hashem, seems to be a most pervasive and ubiquitous quality throughout Torah. Fear of G-d is what is cited as Avrohom Avinu's salient middah (Bereishis 22:12); fear of Heaven is the level Moshe Rabbeinu extols as the point of the light-and-sound show at Mattan Torah (Shmos 20:16); and, as Chovohs Halevavos states in his Sha'ar Yiras Hashem, the only pathway to achieve higher levels of avodas Hashem is to have a solid grounding in yiras Hashem – an ever-present sense of fear of the Almighty.

Yet we shy away from admitting that our avodah need be fear-based. It certainly seems somewhat unsophisticated and even perhaps emotionally unhealthy to have a relationship based on fear. Yet Chazal – the Torah! – understood the human psyche: to wit, without a backdrop of fear, there will always be a possibility of spurning and ignoring our obligations (see Rav to Avos 1:3).

A shocking insight as to its cogency can be found in Brachos 28B, when Rabbi Eliezer,who was deathly ill at the time, aquiesced to his talmidim's request to bless them, by stating ,"May it be His will that you should develop fear of Heaven, to be commensurate with your fear of people. "The talmidim were surprised "That's all? Just like that? Not more?" To which Rabbi Eliezer replied, "Would that it be so as I have stated! Don't you realize that when a person sins (or does anything inappropriate) he is worried that he not be seen by anyone… yet isn't Hashem always looking ?"

This sentiment and idea is actually codified in the very first siman in Shulchan Aruch in the Rema, where the Rema writes that fulfillment of "I have set Hashem before me always," realizing and visualizing that Hashem is really really watching you , makes one act very differently, and makes one conduct oneself with an ever-present fear and humility.

(A modern-day application of this concept, interestingly enough, is the idea of accountability and transparency for those who "must" use the Internet for business and the like. Not always is our fear of Heaven what it should be, and the pitfalls of the Internet are well-known, pervasive, and numerous. The idea of having a report of all the "places" one has "visited" being sent weekly, or even daily, to a designated "chaver" is becoming popular; there are software programs out there that achieve this in various ways, using various methods. Beis Tefilla Yonah Avraham is in the midst of assembling together a tech-support team to simplify this process for anyone whose circumstances demand Internet usage and access, to enable them to easily hook up with these programs. It is certainly not a substitute for foregoing the "blessings" of the Internet, but it is an interesting manifestation of the Gemarra in Brachos – if your yiras shamayim is lacking, we will bring you a basar vedam (a person, of flesh and blood) for you to be afraid of!

Rav Itzil Peterburger, zt"l, in his sefer Shaarei Ohr, indeed finds it difficult to understand why yiras Hashem is not natural and instinctive to the human being, as other fears are. He points out that even when one manages to be courageous and overcome natural fear, the physiology of fear results in physical manifestations of that fear: quicker heartbeat, trembling, etc. Yet fear of G-d does not seem to be at all natural, not even to a believer! How can that be? What happened to normal human reaction? Rav Itzil answers that we are compelled to say, that in order to enable free-will, Hashem enabled an almost-miraculous phenomenon: people are afraid of all sorts of things; their fear is physically felt,the body responds to fear. And yet fear of Heaven, even merely of ultimately having to answer for one's actions and being punished for them, remains itself a matter of avodah that a person has to work on to develop. An open miracle, says Rav Itzil! (Can this be the source of the condition of cognitive dissonance?)

Mesilas Yesharim speaks of three kinds of yiras Hashem. One is easy to achieve; the second is quite difficult; and the third is even more formidable to realize.

The first is a "simple" fear of punishment – yiras onesh. Violating the will of Hashem carries consequences – sometimes in this world, both on a personal level and on a national one, and sometimes in the next world. This is relatively simple to achieve, and needs merely the capacity of self-interest. Once a person is ready to make himself or herself concious of this reality (and,after all, it is one of the 13 principles of faith – i.e, that Hashem rewards and punishes), the instinct for self-preservation would allow, even demand, that yiras Hashem be attained. This is the focus, according to Chazal, of the second paragraph of krias shema – simple belief in reward-and-punishment. This is level one of yiras Hashem (and lest anyone doubt that this is indeed considered yiras Hashem , see the Rambam in Sefer Hamitzvos,where he enumerates the 613 mitzvos and elaborates upon them:

Positive command number 4: that Hashem has commanded us to believe and to fear Him [I assume that the reference to belief is related to the Rambam counting belief in a reward-and-punishment system as a fundamental, essential belief of Judiasm (principle number 11)]; and we must not be like those who ascribe everything to chance; rather,we shall fear His punishment at any moment; and this is a fulfillment of the positive command to fear Hashem.

And so the Rambam makes quite clear that one fulfills the mitzvah of yiras Hashem with this low-level yirah.

The Mesilas Yesharim continues and explains that a more sublime, more transcendent form is what is known as yiras harommemus – something more akin to awe… a complex combination of dread, apprehension, esteem, respect, even reverence and veneration, and embarrasement. That a person refrain from sin out of a sense of respect/dread – how DARE s/he, a puny, small, ineffectual dependent being, violate the will of the All-Mighty, all-seeing, all-knowing G-d!? This fear-of-G-d requires an intellectual bent – where the person has some sort of thoughtful understanding of the essence and being of Hashem, and is overcome with trepidation and even mortification at the thought of contravening Hashem's will. This is yiras Hashem of a more abstract, lofty, nature.

To be continued

I invite everyone to join us at the ulam of BTYA on Wednesday night, the night of 23 Elul, September 1, at 8:30 PM, for a return appearance and PowerPoint lecture by Rav Yechiel Spira, teaching fundamentals of kashrus consumerism – but this time, having made an extensive study of all the food establishments of BS/RBS, he will be using local food purveyors and eateries as his springboard.

Also, we will im yirtzeh Hashem be unveiling the first-time ever RBS/BS Kashrus Report, a must-have guide to Kashrus in our town. See you all there!