Parshas Va’eschanan: Love and fear of Hashem

The Rav זי’’ע, Rav Soloveitchik asked a basic question. We are accustomed to speaking about the term אהבת השם, loving God himself. This connoted an affinity, or rapport so to speak with God. Yet, the concept of fearing God, which whilst also described as יראת השם is used in the vernacular using the more common יראת שמים, fear of heaven. We don’t find our vernacular expressing the term אהבת שמים. Purely from a symmetric consideration, we would expect that to also be a term used in our speech and prayer.

Indeed, the Pasuk says explicitly

ואהבת את השם אלוקיך

The Rav explains this difference in terminology in terms of the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva (10:6). There the Rambam explains that the level of love that the Jew can attain with God is proportional to his understanding of God’s essence. With a heightened and more sophisticated and fuller understanding of God, one is able to love him to a greater extent than before that understanding is understood, internalised and appreciated. The way in which one understand, and gains a further understanding of God has its own nuanced approaches by various sub-groups within Judaism.

The Rambam explains that a person needs to seclude themselves so to speak, and think deeply about his connection and the nature of that connection to achieve this love, and thereby closeness to Hashem himself. Love then is an effect that brings one closer to God. The more we delve, the closer and more  loving we become.

יראה fear, however is a feeling of distance. It is an awe-laden recognition of the distance between the power and majesty of God and a mere mortal. The more one cognates over this concept, the further and more fearful one becomes of the veneration and wonderment. It is for this reason that it is natural to use the term יראת שמים fear of heaven. As one develops their Jewish character, in respect of יראה, the human condition is seen to be afraid and fleeing in the same way that the sky is beyond us and hangs over us unpredictably from day-to-day.

One cannot, according to the Rav see as an outgrowth of love, אהבה, anything other than a  journey of closeness and approachability. יראה, as important as it is, is about the fearful distance which we can’t lessen, as שלמה המלך said

אחכמה והיא רחוקה ממני

As wise as one may become, there is the dichotomous distance through יראה and closeness through אהבה.

The Rav

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

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