Thursday, August 16, 2012

The 2 Types of Fear - Berachot 16b

Today's daf concludes with a series of voluntary supplications that some of our greatest Tannaim and Amoraim added after completing their שמונה עשרה. Many of these תחינות have made it into our liturgy either to be recited on a voluntary basis immediately following the שמונה עשרה before taking 3 steps back and saying עשה שלום or an integral part of other prayers. One of the most famous has become a part of the special Tefilla we say the last Shabbat of every month to inaugurate Rosh Chadash. This prayer appears in the Talmud as follows:

 רב בתר צלותיה אמר הכי יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלהינו שתתן לנו חיים ארוכים חיים של שלום חיים של טובה חיים של ברכה חיים של פרנסה חיים של חלוץ עצמות חיים שיש בהם יראת חטא חיים שאין בהם בושה וכלימה חיים של עושר וכבוד חיים שתהא בנו אהבת תורה ויראת שמים חיים שתמלא לנו את כל משאלות לבנו לטובה 

Rab on concluding his prayer added the following: May it be Thy will, O Lord our God, to grant us long life, a life of peace, a life of good, a life of blessing, a life of sustenance, a life of bodily vigour, a life in which there is fear of sin, a life free from shame and confusion, a life of riches and honour, a life in which we may be filled with the love of Torah and the fear of heaven, a life in which Thou shalt fulfil all the desires of our heart for good!

This beautiful Tefilla seems to beseech G-d for a life full of fear of G-d twice, once when we ask for "fear of sin" and a second time when we ask G-d for the "fear of heaven". The Eitz Yosef commentary on the Ein Yaakov explains that this teaches us a profound distinction between 2 different types of fear of G-d, what in English we might call the fear of G-d vs. the awe of G-d.

He explains that the first type of fear described here as a fear of sin is a low level fear which involves יראת העונש, a fear of punishment. I am afraid to sin because if I do, I am afraid that G-d will punish me. While obviously this type of fear is better than no fear at all, a religious experience predicated on this type of relationship with G-d, who is the "big cop in the sky" who will catch me if I am sinning is not something that is exemplary. It cannot possibly be that great people in Tanach like Avraham, Ovadiah, and Iyyov who are described as fearing G-d merely had this level of fear of sin.

He then explains that the second type of fear, described in this prayer as " fear of heaven" is actually awe of G-d, described in Hebrew as יראת הרוממות, awe of G-d's loftiness. This is a very lofty level of fear where in one's religious experience one becomes so enameled with the greatness of the Master of the Universe that he lives in constant awe of his greatness. This is the awe experienced by our great people throughout history. It is an experience that although hard to reach should be an aspiration for us all.

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