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 www.btya.org.