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For the week ending 14 January 2006 / 14 Tevet 5766

In Fear and Love

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From: Mike

Dear Rabbi,

When reciting the kavanah before putting on tallit, tefillin, etc... it says, "For the sake of the unification of the Holy One, blessed is He, and His Presence, in fear and love..."

Can you explain what the "fear and love" means here? The word for fear here is not yirah, which I know is fear/awe, but d'hilu. The yirah kind of fear makes sense to me, and that is certainly my kavanah when davenning. But I'm not sure what this other kind of fear is. I usually tend to think of fear as a bad thing, or an impediment, or at best the most base possible reason to do something good (i.e. fear of punishment). In some ways I'd rather fear G-d than anything/something else, but mostly, fearing that which I love most would seem to be torturous. I'd also rather my intention be in awe/yirah and love/ahava than the wording used in this prayer. The word for love here is also different; is r'himu from rahamim/mercy?

I've been thinking about the effect of fear in my life in general, so this is important beyond this particular context for me too. I looked in Derekh G-d and Mesillat Yesharim, and both talk about yirah but not d'hilu.

Dear Mike,

Your question is a great question! I think that the answer lies in the words of the Rabbis who teach us that both fear and love are essential ingredients to our becoming closer to G-d. Even though we always assume that fear is something negative the rabbis teach that, when used properly, fear is a very healthy dimension that allows us to retain a balanced perception of G-d. Yaakov Avinu uses the phrase Pachad Yitzchak (the Fear of Yitzchak) in describing his father's relationship with G-d (see Genesis 31:42) and the commentaries all try to explain what it was about Yitzchak that connects him with fear. The Ibn Ezra writes that the fear of Yitzchak was good for Yaakov as it balanced his relationship with G-d (which was based more on love). Rav Moshe Sternbuch, however, writes in Ta'am v'Daat that Yizchak's whole approach to worshipping G-d was through the dimension of fear and it was exactly because of that that Yitzchak's connection to G-d grew greater every day.

Accordingly, it seems that we must reevaluate what fear is. When applied to living here in this physical world it does not normally add a positive dimension to a person's quality of life, but, when applied to fulfilling the Commandments properly and trying to achieve even greater spiritual heights than previously reached, it can be one of the most important and exhilarating emotions available.

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