Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Fear and Love of God

(for my Mother)

    ה וְאָהַבְתָּ, אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ.
    5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

    ~Deuteronomy 6:5


    ו וְשָׁמַרְתָּ, אֶת-מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו, וּלְיִרְאָה אֹתוֹ.
    6 And thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, to walk in His ways, and to fear Him.
    ~Deuteronomy 8:6

    יב וְעַתָּה, יִשְׂרָאֵל--מָה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, שֹׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ: כִּי אִם-לְיִרְאָה אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל-דְּרָכָיו, וּלְאַהֲבָה אֹתוֹ, וְלַעֲבֹד אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשֶׁךָ.

    12 And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul;

    יג לִשְׁמֹר אֶת-מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה, וְאֶת-חֻקֹּתָיו, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ, הַיּוֹם--לְטוֹב, לָךְ.

    13 to keep for thy good the commandments of the LORD, and His statutes, which I command thee this day?

    ~Deuteronomy 10: 12-13
We are often taught, in grade school, the different levels of love and fear through which man can approach God, his creator. We are often given a list like this:

1. Fear of punishment
2. Fear of God
3. Love of God

Fear of punishment is therefore the lowest level through which we can approach God. It is a man cowering before a stronger man's whip, a man fearful, not of offending God or of alienating himself from Him, but of His wrath and anger, the punishments and plagues He can visit upon you. It is man afraid of the physical consequences, of the punishments that will strip him of land and food and the comforts of his life.

The next two levels are considered the loftier levels, the ones that are harder to attain, the ones that are more powerful and more difficult. Fear is often translated as 'Awe' suggesting a kind of fear, not of God's power to hurt, but a realization and appreciation of God's splendor and grandeur, perhaps the kind of view where one approaches God as God of the Cosmos, God of Creation, God who is so grand and powerful as to command the respect of myriads, God to whom I appear an infinitesmal speck.

And then there is Love of God. Love is translated in many different ways. Rashi explains love of God by differentiating it from fear. He states, "You are to obey His words (commands) because of your love [for Him]. There is no comparison between one who obeys out of love and one who obeys out of fear. He who obeys (serves) his master out of fear, should the master over burden him, he will leave him and go away" (Metsudah translation). When I learned this portion, I recall being taught that God does not command emotions in the Torah. This is one of the frequently-mentioned points in regard to honoring one's father and mother- one is not commanded to love one's father and mother but to honor them, and the idea of honoring is given specific halakhic obligations. So too, "love" and similar verbage in the Torah do not actually denote emotional states of being, but rather halakhic obligations. Therefore, the idea with "loving" God is not synonymous with an emotional state of being, but rather with the halakhic obligations of keeping his commands and serving Him.

Sifri offers another explanation, stating, "Davar acheir- another explanation- love of God refers to love for all the creations, like Abraham our forefather of whom it is said, "And the souls that he made in Haran." The explanation for this, Sifri continues, is that Avraham our forefather converted these people and helped them to enter beneath the wings of the Shekhina. This approach is helpful to those people who want a practical understanding of loving God, to love God is to love His creations.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about fear and love of God is that they are not mutually exclusive. Generally, one thinks of fear or awe coming from the perspective of man caught in the cosmos, man looking at the impossible grandeur of the world and seeing himself as the tiny speck that he is. Love, on the other hand, is often (although not always) allied to a feeling of importance in that you and another person or being have formed a personal connection, a connection in which you feel valued and loved as well. To love God generally suggests a personal perspective, the perspective of the individual feeling close to God, feeling as though he is a valued, necessary part of the world, someone who matters, and hence someone who can love God. How can one simultaneously see God of the Cosmos and God of the Individual? It seems impossible! And yet it appears that it can be done.

If you look to the Bible itself, you will notice that passages mentioning fear of God abound, while passages describing love of God are relatively few (and it's very interesting that the very first commandment gives as justification fear of punishment- do not eat of the Tree of Knowledge, lest thou shalt die.)

FEAR OF GOD
(I am not listing all of the references, only enough to prove the point)

1. יא וַיֹּאמֶר, אַבְרָהָם, כִּי אָמַרְתִּי רַק אֵין-יִרְאַת אֱלֹהִים, בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וַהֲרָגוּנִי, עַל-דְּבַר אִשְׁתִּי.
And Abraham said: 'Because I thought: Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake. (Genesis 20:11)

2.יב וַיֹּאמֶר, אַל-תִּשְׁלַח יָדְךָ אֶל-הַנַּעַר, וְאַל-תַּעַשׂ לוֹ, מְאוּמָה: כִּי עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-יְרֵא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה, וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת-בִּנְךָ ... 12 And he said: 'Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou art a God-fearing man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me.' (Genesis 22:12)

3.מב לוּלֵי אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם וּפַחַד יִצְחָק, הָיָה לִי--כִּי עַתָּה, רֵיקָם שִׁלַּחְתָּנִי; אֶת-עָנְיִי וְאֶת-יְגִיעַ כַּפַּי, רָאָה אֱלֹהִים--וַיּוֹכַח אָמֶשׁ. Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac, had been on my side, surely now hadst thou sent me away empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and gave judgment yesternight.' (Genesis 31: 42)

4.יח וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יוֹסֵף בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי, זֹאת עֲשׂוּ וִחְיוּ; אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, אֲנִי יָרֵא.
18 And Joseph said unto them the third day. 'This do, and live; for I fear God: (Genesis 42: 18)

5.יז וַתִּירֶאןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת, אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, וְלֹא עָשׂוּ, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֲלֵיהֶן מֶלֶךְ מִצְרָיִם; וַתְּחַיֶּיןָ, אֶת-הַיְלָדִי
17 But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men-children alive. (Exodus 1: 17)

6.ל וְאַתָּה, וַעֲבָדֶיךָ: יָדַעְתִּי--כִּי טֶרֶם תִּירְאוּן, מִפְּנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים.
But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear the LORD God.'-- (Exodus 9:30)

7.כא וְאַתָּה תֶחֱזֶה מִכָּל-הָעָם אַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל יִרְאֵי אֱלֹהִים, אַנְשֵׁי אֱמֶת--שֹׂנְאֵי בָצַע; וְשַׂמְתָּ עֲלֵהֶם, שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת, שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים, וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת.
Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. (Exodus 18: 21)

8.טז וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-הָעָם, אַל-תִּירָאוּ, כִּי לְבַעֲבוּר נַסּוֹת אֶתְכֶם, בָּא הָאֱלֹהִים; וּבַעֲבוּר, תִּהְיֶה יִרְאָתוֹ עַל-פְּנֵיכֶם--לְבִלְתִּי תֶחֱטָאוּAnd Moses said unto the people: 'Fear not; for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before you, that ye sin not.' (Exodus 20: 16)

9.יז וְלֹא תוֹנוּ אִישׁ אֶת-עֲמִיתוֹ, וְיָרֵאתָ מֵאֱלֹהֶיךָ: כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.
And ye shall not wrong one another; but thou shalt fear thy God; for I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 25: 17)

For more references, see here.

There are two points to be made about fear of God (based on these examples.)

1. Gentiles/ Non-Jews are completely capable of fearing God. We see this because Avimelech is said to have "no fear of God," Pharoah is said not to fear God, and Joseph, while still masquerading as an Egyptian viceroy, claims that he does fear God. This is one of the reasons that Ibn Ezra explains that the Midwives, later on, were not necessarily Jewish (he claims they were Egyptian, contrary to our usual grade-school Shifra-Puah theme.) His point, and it is very valid, is that fear of God is not definably a Jewish characteristic, but rather one that is necessary for all.

2. Fear of God is most often used as a deterrant of sin. Abraham sees that there is no "fear of God" in Abimelech's kingdom, therefore he surmises (correctly) that people are not afraid to murder. Frequently in Leviticus, the words "fear God" are linked to sins which one might deem minor, insignificant, or think one could easily commit. The words "fear God" remind that even though man may not have the power to oppose you (say, regarding the man who is ruthlessly ruling as a tyrant), God can and will.

Now, if I am correct, the idea of loving God is first mentioned in Deuteronomy. We have mention of the love a wife bears a husband (by Sarai, when Abraham requests her to lie to save his life), the love a father bears a son (by Isaac), the fact that God has the capacity to love, the command to love another as yourself, specifically the convert. But the first place where one is told he must love God is Deuteronomy.

A suggestion- perhaps this has to do with the change of generations in Deuteronomy. God redeems and rescues, initially, a generation of slaves. These men are indebted to Him, certainly, but they have been raised as slaves. Some of them may believe they are merely changing alleigance from one master over to another. Some of them are distrustful, sly, thankful for their good fortune but certain that there has to be a catch. For people who are so disillusioned, who have led such hard lives, perhaps the concept of actually loving their redeemer would be difficult. First they have to adjust. They have to grow accustomed to this God. Does He want to take advantage of them? Does He want what is in their best interest? Or does He simply want them to serve, yet again? They are distrustful, most of Exodus describes the many stories in which they display their distrust of God and want to return to the familiar, to life in Egypt. They were enslaved, but they had food, they had fish, they had masters they could understand and see, not this invisible cosmic force. Love must grow; it is based off of trust. Slowly, perhaps, as these slaves learn to trust God, learn that He is there for them, will protect and defend them, slowly as trust grows, they can learn to love God. But initially, the concept would be impossible, and hence, I suggest, it was not introduced. Indeed, even at the very end, by the sin of the spies, the spies sabotage God's efforts, badmouthing the land He gives them. Why is this? There are various explanations and interpretations, some describing the deaths they see (which God provides as a diversion) and their misunderstanding of these events. But perhaps they were still caught, trapped, by the slave mentality from whence they came. Perhaps they had to sabotage themselves, perhaps the land of Israel was so beautiful as to be a dream, a dream they knew they could not have. They were afraid of the role they would have to play, upright conquerors, heroes, men of war. How could they do this? They were slaves! And so they sabotage themselves, self-destruct, and the generation dies out. You notice, throughout their journey, that it is members of the tribe of Levi who are able to act as capable leaders, to accurately report on the Land. This is because they were not slaves, and hence were not caught up in that mentality. I think it is Ramban who states that the first generation had to die in the desert because they were trapped by this mentality.

But the second generation- ah! Well, the second generation has been weaned on miracles. Food falls mysteriously from the sky. A pillar of cloud leads them by day, a fire by night. There is a magnificent Temple in which God resides. The Aron before them razes mountains to the ground. This second generation has beheld God's magnificence and grandeur; they have learned to trust God. And so, it is logical that this is the generation that can love God. This is the generation to whom the concept of loving God can be introduced. Fear is certainly mentioned as well, as fear is the great deterrant, but love, love based on trust- they are capable of this, at last. Deuteronomy allows it to them.

And so we come to love.

Now, which approach is necessarily better? How are we to describe the different approaches?

With thanks to the wonderful Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner, we may begin.

The Talmud states:


    R. Hanina further said: Everything is in the hand of heaven except the fear of heaven,25 as it says, And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee but to fear.26 Is the fear of heaven such a little thing? Has not R. Hanina said in the name R. Simeon b. Yohai: The Holy One, blessed be He, has in His treasury nought except a store of the fear of heaven, as it says, The fear of the Lord is His treasure?27 — Yes; for Moses it was a small thing; as R. Hanina said: To illustrate by a parable, if a man is asked for a big article and he has it, it seems like a small article to him; if he is asked for a small article and he does not possess it, it seems like a big article to him.

    Berachot 33b


The concept is also brought up in Megillah 25a.

Another statement in Berachot:


    A favourite saying of Abaye was: A man should always be subtle in the fear of heaven.13 A soft answer turneth away wrath,14 and one should always strive to be on the best terms with his brethren and his relatives and with all men and even with the heathen in the street, in order that he may be beloved above and well-liked below and be acceptable to his fellow creatures. It was related of R. Johanan b. Zakkai that no man ever gave him greeting first, even a heathen in the street.

    Berachot 17a


Abaye therefore states that it is important to find new ways and different paths in which to fear God.

We see in Sukkah 49b that God's kindness washes over those who fear Him.

ת"ל (תהילים לו) מה יקר חסדך אלהים <חסד ה' מלאה הארץ> וגו' יכול אף ירא שמים כן ת"ל (תהילים קג) וחסד ה' מעולם ועד עולם על יראיו

Men given a type of grace/ favor are those who fear God:
א"ר חמא בר פפא כל אדם שיש עליו חן בידוע שהוא ירא שמים שנא' חסד ה' מעולם ועד עולם על יראיו

How does one serve God? By emulating Him.


    For it was taught: This is my God, and I will adorn him: [i.e.,] adorn thyself before Him in [the fulfilment of] precepts. [Thus:] make a beautiful sukkah in His honour,8 a beautiful lulab, a beautiful shofar, beautiful fringes, and a beautiful Scroll of the Law, and write it with fine ink, a fine reed [-pen], and a skilled penman, and wrap it about with beautiful silks. Abba Saul interpreted, and I will be like him:9 be thou like Him: just as He is gracious and compassionate, so be thou gracious and compassionate.) —

    Shabbath 133b


The concept is also brought up in Sotah 14a:


    R. Hama son of R. Hanina further said: What means the text: Ye shall walk after the Lord your God?4 Is it, then, possible for a human being to walk after the Shechinah; for has it not been said: For the Lord thy God is a devouring fire?5 But [the meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. As He clothes the naked, for it is written: And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife coats of skin, and clothed them,6 so do thou also clothe the naked. The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick, for it is written: And the Lord appeared unto him by the oaks of Mamre,7 so do thou also visit the sick. The Holy One, blessed be He, comforted mourners, for it is written: And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son,8 so do thou also comfort mourners. The Holy one, blessed be He, buried the dead, for it is written: And He buried him in the valley,9 so do thou also bury the dead.


And so we see examples of service and fear of God.

Returning to the prime statement, that of fear of God, and Moses' intimation that it is a small thing to do, in which regard the Rabbis state, "Yes; for Moses it was a small thing; as R. Hanina said: To illustrate by a parable, if a man is asked for a big article and he has it, it seems like a small article to him; if he is asked for a small article and he does not possess it, it seems like a big article to him," I now turn to Nechama Leibowitz.

First she states that Moses was very humble/ unassuming, citing Numbers 12:3, which suggests that he was not conscious of his own superiority, and therefore unaware that "for him [it was] but a small matter, [but] would demand from the rest of the people extroardinary spiritual exertions." However, she then turns to Ramban/ Nachmanides, who explains the meaning of fear of God as indicating a minimum demand. He believes that fear of God must be understood in terms of the words "for thy good." Nachama continues that "the severity of any demand corresponds to the extent of the sacrifice involved. The fear and love demanded by God involve no sacrifice or surrender of man's part of his own true interests. It is thus but a small thing to ask man to do something which is in his own genuine interest." (Leibowitz from Studies in Devarim, page 100)

She then cites a fascinating approach, that of Joseph Albo, quoting from his Sefer Ha-ikkarim. Albo explains that the aim of the soul in performing the commandments of the Torah is to develop a "disposition to fear God" which will be permanent. Fear, in his view, is "the noblest disposition for man to acquire, nor can it be acquired except after great pains and effort." He uses Abraham as an example, noting that Abraham is only called God-fearing upon the completion of his trials, but not before. He then interprets the passage in question:


    "The interpretation of the passage is as follows. Moses is explaining to the people the extroardinary kindness of God. By right, in order to attain the perfection of one's soul, a person should fear God, walk in His ways, love Him, and serve Him with all his heart and soul. But it is very difficult for a person to attain the required degree of fear, love and service with all his heart and soul. Hence God made it easier for man. He commanded him instead to observe merely God's statutes and commandments, and thereby he may achieve the same degree of perfection he would get from service with heart and soul" (cited in Leibowitz, 101).


Albo explains that God "demands of us the fulfillment of His will in daily acts, in the grey routine of our 24 hour living. It is the latter which will gradually lead us to the higher plane of fear."

Fear of heaven, Nachama concludes, is inextricably linked to free will on a whole. In the same way that fear of heaven is not in God's hands, hence the use of the word "ask" (what does God ask of you, not command), so too, she states, citing Rambam's Code, Teshuvah 5, 1-3, "Free will is granted to every man. If he desires to follow the good path and be righteous, he is free to do so, and if he desires to follow an evil one and be wicked, he is likewise free to do so...This constitutes a fundamental principle and pillar of the Torah and its precepts..the Creator does not force His will on any man, nor pre-ordain him to do good or evil, but everything is entrusted to him" (the quote is a direct translation of the Hebrew, not Nachama's paraphrase.)

The Rav also quotes Maimonides, describing how one comes to love God. Now that we have discussed fear in depth, it is appropriate to discuss love:


    "Maimonides emphasizes knowledge as a requisite for loving God. "It is known and certain that the love of God does not become closely knit in a man's heart till he is continously and thoroughly possessed by it and gives up everything in the world for it...One only loves God with the knowledge with which one knows him" (Hil. Teshuvah 10:6). He is saying that one can love deeply only a person one knows well. This view reflects the king-teacher outlook of Maimonides, namely, that the intellectual exploration of God's moral (Torah) and cosmic (natural) orders is the bridge spanning the gap between man and God." (Reflections of the Rav vol 1, 162)


He continues:


    "In the ecstatic and passionate love of God it is the heart, not the mind, which predominates. Prayer, more than study, is the primary emphasis of the saint-teacher. We mentioned earlier that maimonides felt that an intellectual effort must exist in order to bring forth emotional rapport. Yehudah Halevi (Kuzari, 4), however, expounds the view that the visionary experience is a stronger link than the abstract intellectual experience. Through ethical preparation and mystical transport, not intellectual knowledge, man evokes and inspires emotional communion (dvekut) with God." (Reflections of the Rav vol 1, 164)


Love is then an experience, transmitted by contact with others who are lovesick for God. It is not a logical rational approach toward God so much as an ecstatic, passionate response.

The Rav often writes of our "romance with the Creator." He speaks of different Gods in that God appears in different ways- He is high and lofty, Creator, Owner, and Guardian of the Universe, but then He is also the God who appears in the night and comforts the bereaved, the God who is close and kind. He writes of man's capacity for prophecy, and how fulfilling that capacity is fulfilling the highest potential of man. Prophecity mandates a true connection with God; for a person to attain prophecy means that he has attained the qualities necessary for prophecy. The Rav often writes of different ways of teaching; one can teach intellectual thoughts, theories, and halakha, but there is also the transfusion of color and vibrance, experience and emotion to religion, and this comes about through experience, not words.

Perhaps fear of God walks hand in hand with the halakhic personality. The halakhic personality understands commands, statements, intricacies, logic. The halakhic personality understands consequences. He has a rational, analytical mindset; the kind of mindset that can easily relate to God of the Cosmos, the kind of mind that can evaluate and remain in awe of God. The halakhic personality feels emotion, no doubt, but perhaps it is more natural for him to feel awe.

The personality of the homo religiosus, then, in contrast, that personality which goes on flights of fancy, transcendence, rapture, emotional highs and lows, is probably more equipped to feel love for God as a norm, and to work on developing awe and fear. The homo religiosus is so caught up in the magical and mystical that it is only natural that he should love God, but to fear him and feel the awe He commands may perhaps be harder.

That is my suggestion; I do not know if it is true or may be supported by the ideas of others.

It is made clear that fear and love work together, the two words are combined in the question Moses asks. It does not suffice to have one or the other; we must strive for both. We strive to keep the commandments, and in so doing to reap the gains we would acquire had we reached the lofty state of awe of God. We emulate God and so serve Him. Insomuch as we strive, God helps us. And love of God, our personal love for Him through knowledge and trust, comes into being steadily and slowly, growing as we too grow.

I find it easier to visualize God as a personal God. A God who is interested in what I have to say, a God with whom I may be completely honest; a God who knows all my faults and the reasons that I do the things I do- or refrain from doing what I ought to do. I find it easier to visualize a God to whom I matter, a God who loves me, and hence a God I can love, or be angry with, or hate, or speak to, in return. This may be because I am female, or perhaps it is because I love words and magic and mysteries, stories and color, and I find all this in a relationship with God. I know that I don't often contemplate God in His grandeur, as the prospect frightens me. How could one person matter to God the Judge, God of the Cosmos? It is harder for me to see, and hence it is not natural for me to fear God, per se. I prefer to smile up at Him like a mischievous child, to dance about, to watch Him watching me. It is easier for me to see God as a parent, a just parent, certainly, a parent who demands I take responsibility for my actions and transgressions, but still a parent. I know there must be people who find it easier to view God from afar, view God as Master, Commander, Ruler. I have trouble with this.

But as the two approaches are melded together, and one necessarily complements the other, I hope to join them together one day! Love and fear, fear and love, different approaches to service and knowledge of God- both of them valid, and both beautiful.

2 comments:

duby said...

"both valid, both beautiful"...and BOTH mitzvos asei--positive mitzvos.... see Rambam in minyan hamitzvos, both Ahava and Yirah are counted (i think they are mitzvah 5 and 6)

Anonymous said...

On December 9, 2006, I saw a lovely lady wearing a frum dress with a sweet face and long brown hair during havdala at Congregation Sons of Israel in Allentown. She was one of only two women there in the evening, the other had her hair covered and was therefore married. I wanted to meet and speak with her during the Sephardic Event that evening but she never returned. I inquired about her directly to Rabbi Torczyner and I asked him for his assistance. He informed that she was beginning the process of converting to orthodox Judaism and therefore he could not help me. After one month of back and forth communication, pleading my case, he changed his mind and said he would help me but the final result after 4 months is that I have never seen her again (she probably quit) She does not know who I am. I do not even know her name. Rabbi Torczyner seems to be the only person who knows who she is but I do not think he is in a good position to help me. All that I know about her is that she is a college student.

Does anyone know who this person is? Is there any way I can get in touch with her because I really want to talk with her?

She is the best Jewish person I have ever come across in my life. I think she is fine the way she is and does not ever have to convert. God bless her.