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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Pathways in Personality Development

Chapter 34

35. Fear of God's Exalted Nature

Fear and love of God are the two pillars of true divine service without which it is impossible to truly serve God. The chief aspect of the fear of God is the fear of His exalted nature, and this implies fear based upon admiration and adoration.
Dedicated to the memory of
Rachel Bat Asher
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Fear and love of God are the two pillars of true divine service without which it is impossible to truly serve God. The chief aspect of the fear of God is the fear of His exalted nature. Fear of God's exalted nature implies fear which stems from admiration and adoration. It is not the sort of external, intimidating fear which causes a person to wish to flee. It is not the sort of fear which weighs down upon a person or hovers over him against his will.
Pathways in Personality Development (52)
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
35 - 36. The Adornment of Religious Performance
36 - 35. Fear of God's Exalted Nature
37 - 37. Piety and the Love of God
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The fear of God's exalted nature is achieved by dwelling upon the greatness of the Almighty and His loftiness. Such thoughts elevate a person and fill him with awe. One understands that the divine greatness cannot be described or even grasped, for the Almighty is transcends all blessing and praise, He is beyond all forms of perfection that man's mind can envision and comprehend. No human mind, no matter how great, is capable of grasping Him. He is greater than man can possibly imagine. "To whom then will you liken me, that I should be his equal? said the Holy One" (Isaiah 40:25).

This dwelling upon God's greatness by man causes adoration, excitement, a desire to get close to this greatness, to become engulfed in it, nullified by it. Not a nullification of cessation, but a nullification that magnifies a person. One becomes erect and filled with the divine light. He himself is nullified as he merges with the divine greatness. Fear of God's exalted nature is the fear which man longs for, thirsts for.

However, base, external fear also plays an important role for those who experience difficulties in their moral ascent, for those who are held sway by licentiousness and lack the strength to overcome their evil inclination. These sorts of people benefit from a more intimidating type of fear of Heaven: "Only trepidation and fear of God's greatness, of God who rules over creation, only fear before God who is the true Judge, a jealous and vengeful God, only this kind of trepidation is capable of stopping such people and subduing their negative tendencies."

This is true fear of Heaven, and it is necessary for people who experience difficulties in serving God. But for spiritual people with refined character traits fear of God's exalted nature is fitting, fear based upon adoration: "A God that is mighty in the great council of the holy ones and greatly feared of all who serve Him" (Psalms 89:8).

Such fear must accompany all of man's worship. It must spread from the mind to the heart, from the intellect to the emotion, until it reaches the senses, to the point that one sees himself when he prays or carries out commandments as if he were actually standing in the presence of the Creator. By pondering and internalizing this, one slowly begins to feel as if he actually stands before the Almighty, prays in His presence and makes requests of Him in person. One senses that the Almighty truly hears his prayers and requests.

When such fear fills the heart, it spreads and influences a person's behavior. When a person constantly sees God before him - "I have set the Lord always before me" (Psalms 16:8) - he behaves accordingly. Fear is discernible in everything he does - when he stands, walks, prays. The sage Rava would place his hands upon his heart when praying, like a servant before his master, with fear and trepidation. Rav Huna would put on appropriate clothes before praying. He said, "Prepare to meet your God."

In sum: Fear is one of the pillars upon which divine service rests, and the chief aspect of the fear of God is the fear of His exalted nature.
Some of the above translation was taken from or based upon Feldheim's "The Path of the Just," and from Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom).

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