Saturday, February 12, 2005

Do you really fear God?

R. Yehuda Henkin, in his comments on parshat Yitro(yes, I am behind in my reading), looks at the concept of fear of God. He asks why there had to be loud noises, lightning, and a whole production associated with the giving of the Torah? In answer, it says there that because of the noise etc, the nation feared haShem. He also looks at the midrash where haShem holds the mountain over the nation and threatens them. Wasn't it enough that they already had said "na'aseh v'nishma?" they has already accepted the Torah, why did He have to threaten them with burying them? The answer, according to R. Henkin, is that fear of God is a neccesary element of our religion. While loving God is a higher form of closeness, it can not be counted on as a consistant impetus for behavior. In Devarim we are also told, in response to the question, what does haShem want from you? - to fear haShem, and to love Him. It seems that fear is neccessary and love is optimal.(another interpretation is that you start with fear and wind up with love, following the order given in the text)

R. Henkin closes his essay by noting that those who say they love God, but do not fear Him, sometimes actually do not believe in Him.(by the way, as usual, his writing is much more eloquent than my paraphrasing)

It occured to me that I dont walk around all the time fearing God. I fulfill my commandments sometimes out of a sense of duty, sometimes out of what I think is genuine love of haShem, and happiness to serve Him, lots of time(unfortunately) out of rote. But rarely(except for around the three weeks or elul) do i think a lot of fearing God. I guess it is that when I daven, , thanking Him for what I have, asking Him for things, the feeling I have is not knee-trembling fear. Even on Yom Kippur I mostly feel insignificant, or fearful for the future of loved ones or(on a lesser scale) for my future. As I write this, I realize that because I have a deep belief that haShem is all-Merciful, and truly cares about His creatures, it is hard for me to truly fear Him, and my greatest fear is that I have let Him down. I think that is the fear I should carry with me at all times.

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