by Simon Jacobson
Organized religion is often denounced by skeptics as intent on suppressing
logic and singular expression. The Biblical commandment to
"fear G-d" is particularly condemned and trivialized
as overemphasizing rule used to keep the faithful in order.
There is a well-known story about the famous 18th century Chassidic
master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who was well known for his
empathy and non-judgmental character. One Rosh Hashanah he invited his
neighbor to come with him to synagogue. The neighbor declined, saying,
"Rebbe, Im an atheist, I dont believe in G-d. It would
be hypocritical of me to step foot in a synagogue." Rabbi Levi
Yitzchak smiled and replied, "The G-d that you dont believe
in, I dont believe in either."
The Hebrew words commonly mistranslated as "fear of G-d,"
are Yirat Shamayim which really mean "awe of heaven." Fear
has many negative, far-reaching implications. As a constant companion,
fear can be extremely unhealthy, like the utter terror of a child cringing
in fear of an alcoholic parent. Awe however, implies mystery and an
awareness of something greater. When we stand before nature, or when
we bask in the beauty of an artistic masterpiece, we stand in awe, indeed
were uplifted by the knowledge that life is a gift.
Awe of G-d is the acknowledgement of the distance between man and
his Creator, which only lifts man to greater heights. In no way does
it minimize the human desire to achieve truth. On the contrary, "awe
of heaven" evokes the feeling of dignity in man as he sees himself
part of the greater scheme of creation.
As the favorite cynics story goes, the skeptical niece asks
her religious, G-d fearing uncle, "Tell me, if you had to choose
between truth and G-d, which would you choose?" Without missing
a beat, he replied, "G-d of course." This feeds into the stereotype
G-d, religion and truth are not necessarily synonymous.
Mans objective is to discover the majesty within his own heart
and soul. He merely has to cut away the weeds, the resistance and distortions
that hold him back from reaching above his inherent limitations. The
key is not to be distracted by life or to become victim to the scars
of subjective attitudes. Flowers will emerge when weeds do not impede.
One of the great Rabbis once said, "Jewish tradition teaches
man how small he is and how great he can become." Do not be frightened
of G-d. Stand in awe of Him. Fear weakens the spirit. Awe strengthens
it. Fear is demoralizing. Awe is uplifting.
Coupled with love, awe is the basis of Judaism with which one can
begin to communicate with and pray to G-d, concretizing a relationship
with the soul.
Are you afraid of your soul?