Part 4: "Divine Service"
Ch. 3: "The Love and Fear of G-d"
The two loftiest means we have of drawing close to G-d, we're told, are
love and fear Him wholeheartedly. But as we'd said, we can experience
different sorts of love and fear (see 1:4:8).
At bottom, though, we love G-d best when we love Him for Who He is, in all
His Glory (i.e., unconditionally) rather than for all the great good He
grants us (i.e., conditionally, and only occasionally). We'll expand upon
loving Him the next time, but for now let's touch upon the idea
of "fearing" Him, which is a notion that many people are troubled by.
What troubles them is that they just can't fathom the thought of G-d as
being fearful. "He's G-d," they say "and He loves me, so why should I be
afraid of Him? He'd never do me harm!"
On the one hand, their instincts are quite good, for G-d does indeed love
us all. But on the other, they sell G-d short. For G-d Almighty is capable
of razing heaven and earth, and of transforming everything we know to
nothing we can imagine. So, frankly, His potency should shake us, if not
out-and-out frighten us. Nonetheless Ramchal makes the point that that
sort of reaction is less than ideal.
What's a better one? It's based on the fact that an alternative
translation of the term for fear ("yirah", in Hebrew) is "awe", which is
actually the highest form of yirah. For when we fear G-d's might, we tend
to draw away from Him, whereas when we stand in awe of it we tend to draw
closer to Him in sheer wonder.
In fact, our beings are cleansed of all dross when we're in awe of G-d
Almighty, we're taught, and we stand in His presence. In fact, the more in
awe of Him we are, the deeper the cleansing and the closer the contact. As
such, Moses, who was invariably in awe of G-d, was thus always in His
But make no mistake about it -- it's not easy achieving so exalted a level
of awareness of G-d's might and jolt. Yet we're encouraged to strive for
higher and higher degrees of it all the time, since it bolsters the
mitzvot we do and the Torah we study in ways we'd never expect the way
pepper changes eggs.