God demands that we should all fear Him. But is it possible then, for us to have a healthy relationship with Him?
In Parshat Eikev, Moshe brings the word of Hashem to the people (Devarim 10:12):
“Mah Hashem Elokeicha shoel meimach?” – “What is it that the Lord your God wants of you?”
“Ki im leyirah et Hashem Elokeicha,” – “But always to fear the Lord your God.”
What do we mean here by fearing Hashem? The Maharsha in his commentary on the Gemara Masechet Berachot 33b differentiates between two types of ‘yirah’, two types of fear. The first he calls ‘yirat haonesh’, fear of punishment. This type of fear, he said, is not the healthiest. That is to say when I’m in a state of dread, I don’t want to do what is wrong because I fear the possible repercussions. The Maharsha however says that there is a different type of ‘yirah’. It is ‘yirat harommemut’, in which we have a sense of awe, of reverence for Hashem. We recognise His greatness and his place in our life as a result of which we cleave to Him with love and as a result of our passion for Him and what He represents, we want to do the right thing for our own sake, and for the sake of others.
It is for this reason that in Hebrew, the words for fearing and seeing come from the same root. And that’s because by ‘seeing’ Hashem’s role in this world, by ‘seeing’ that He’s there to help us through and His love for us – as a result we have enormous reverence for Him. And that therefore provides for an exceptionally healthy relationship through which we are motivated to follow the word of Hashem, not because we fear punishment but rather because we delight in the incredible opportunities that a life of Torah and mitzvot provides for us.
Let us therefore motivate our children and grandchildren to follow the word of Hashem not because they’re in dread of anything but rather because they have the privilege of a life filled with that incredible gift of Torah and mitzvot.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis