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!