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Why You Should Never Fear G-d

06/14/2017 01:02:00 PM


By Rabbi Eliezer Wolf


A few years ago, at a bar-mitzvah celebration, I blessed the bar-mitzvah boy in the traditional way, "may you grow to be a pious, G-d fearing and learned Jew."

One of the guests that day was a person who rarely ever attended a Synagogue, and who was very detached from any engagement in Jewish life.

During the party after the services, he came over to talk to me and asked with complete sincerity, "Rabbi, why do you want the boy to be afraid of G-d?"

He was referring to my blessing about being 'G-d fearing'.

This led us into a lengthy and insightful conversation, both for him and me.

No, G-d does not want us to be afraid of him. Only an insecure leader wishes for that.

So what does the Biblical instruction mean when it says "To the Lord your G-d you shall have *yirah*"?

The best contextual translation that I am aware of is 'reverence'.

There is no need to fear someone who loves you. Fear would be a very inappropriate emotion. But there is every need to revere someone you love and who loves you.

Loving someone usually means that you feel casual with each other and often drop many boundaries between the two of you. But having no boundaries can lead to an erosion of the very love which got you there. When we feel free to do and say as we wish, even when it is caused by a shared love, it can create carelessness and ultimately abuse. How many relationships turned sour due to too much love!

We need to also revere the people and things we love. Reverence is a very deep and mature emotion. It results from a sincere recognition about the value and uniqueness of others, and from humility due to recognizing the limits to our own greatness, and it compels us to view the other from their perspective, not ours. Reverence will always lead to empathy, a most necessary ingredient in any relationship.

Love often turns a relationship into being centered around you; reverence turns the relationship into being centered around the other. Love tells us "anything goes", whereas reverence tells us, "actually, let's ask the other what they prefer".

As a society we have increasingly emphasized the importance of loving each other, but seem to have forgotten the art of reverence. How much respect do we show each other? How much space do we create in ourselves for the other to exist independent from our own existence? Collectively, we need to work more on our reverence - towards each other, towards sacred times and spaces, towards authority, and towards G-d.

We are instructed to both love and revere G-d. When we love G-d, we tell Him "I'll do anything I can for you." When we revere G-d, we tell Him "I'll do anything you ask from me."

Ever since that episode, I am much more conscientious to speak to maturing boys and girls, as well as adults, about the importance of both love and reverence. But I also make sure to tell them never to fear anybody, including G-d!

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782