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Are We Supposed to be Afraid of G‑d? (II)

Are We Supposed to be Afraid of G‑d? (II)



I was brought up with a perception of G‑d as an intimidating figure to be afraid of. I embraced Judaism, which I understood as seeing G‑d as more loving and forgiving, but I’ve noticed in Jewish sources references to G‑d as being something also to fear. This is conjuring up all the negative feelings toward religion from my childhood. Can you shed some light on this “fear of G‑d”?


I think this is a translation issue. The word “fear” conjures an image of something scary, like a haunted house, or a dark alley, or a parking cop. I understand why you would recoil from a religion that promotes fear. We should not feel about G‑d what we feel towards a bogeyman.

Indeed, there is a concept in Judaism called yir’at shamayim, translated as “fear of heaven.” But “fear” misses the true meaning of the word. A better word would be “respect.”

While love must be a primary motivating factor in our life, we also need a healthy dose of respect. The difference between love and respect is that when I love, I am preoccupied with my feelings toward you; when I respect, I am focusing on your presence rather than mine. Love is my desire to approach you. Respect is my deference to your otherness, your right to be who you are.

When you love someone but do not respect them, it ends up being all about you. The other is simply an object of your love; their opinion is not taken seriously, and they are not treated as a real being. Someone who loves their spouse but does not respect them never leaves space for the other to really exist. If you love your parents without respecting them, then you actually don’t have parents, just good buddies. A friend whom you don’t really respect is no more than a convenient accessory to keep you company when you are in the mood.

Respect means acknowledging someone else as being a valid and important being, to be listened to and honored. It means looking up to someone and realizing that there are things about the other person that we just have to accept, like it or not. Put simply, respect means taking someone else seriously.

So we love G‑d, we feel close and intimate with Him, but we also respect that He is G‑d, a real being, with expectations and demands. He is our parent whom we love, but He is also a king whom we must obey. It is this awe and respect that prevents us from thinking that G‑d is just an extension of our own ego, a being that we can bend and stretch to fit into our own image of Him.

Respect, not fear. There’s no bogeyman. Apart from parking cops, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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K. Jennings GATINEAU January 26, 2017

This idea inspires thought of the phrase "with great power comes great responsibility". I believe that it is good to have respect for, and fear of, true power. Reply

Alan B. Katz Long Island February 10, 2016

Nature of God I like the question itself. All questions and answers must begin with your answer to "What is the nature of God?"
If he is omniscient, all powerful and beneficent, why is there so much suffering, pain and evil? To those who subscribe to the "free will" theory, I see that as merely a rationalization for God's failures, in which case he is not all powerful and beneficent. Either he oversees all or he doesn't. If the answer is "yes" then he has come up galactically (?) short. If the answer is "no" then our definition of Him is wrong. You can't have it both ways. On the other hand, the Holocaust is strong evidence of His disconnect from us. Perhaps he let man exercise his free will until he just couldn't bear what msn had done and put an end to it. Was God thinking "Let's see how far my creation will go with his free will." That suggests a creator who then left the game. A passive God isn't really God unless God is not beneficent or all-powerful.
[More thoughts to follow?] Reply

Yitzchak Chaim July 29, 2015

To Shawn You're not alone in your struggle. Many lash out at G-d for allowing His wrath to dominate His mercy. It's o.k. to be angry, sad, desperate, confused, and broken. Hashem wants you to cry out to Him with all your emotion.
A parent that truly loves his child will allow him to fail. A parent that truly loves his child will let him cry himself to sleep. A parent that truly loves his child will let him have "his way" and suffer for his pride. A parent that loves, teaches.
Hashem is the truly loving G-d because He lets His children suffer. Modern day culture is filled with such sickening examples of parents that blind their children to pain out of fear of their suffering. Ironically, the weakness and inner pain created through this "blinding" is infinitely more devastating.
We must look at every wound as a fortification. Every loss is a future gain. All our tears are really the healing waters of the highest heaven come to show our souls how invincible they are. Have faith. Raba Emunatecha! Reply

Juda May 6, 2014

re Nature of miracles Indeed, go out into the world; look at the wonders of creation. Take some time out to contemplate the complex world around us, with all of its contradictions, and strange “coincidences.” Yes, one can insist and call it “coincidences;” Some of us however, have a different name for it, we call it “divine providence.”
There are Miracles even now, yo just need to know where to look. Actually, perhaps one needs to start at the beginning and understand the nature of nature and miracles, for that I would recommend Nature, Miracles and Natural Miracles see also What is a Miracle? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma April 28, 2014

Shawn's question below I think Shawn is asking a deep question, and one that has certainly plagued me, through the years. The Bible is filled with examples of Divine Cruelty, and Divine Orders that seem exceptionally wrong, like the Abraham and Isaac Story, the Akeda. For the longest time I couldn't even talk about these stories, because the violence was antithetical to any concept of a Just G_d, one for whom Justice, Mercy, Compassion was primary. So I "get you" totally, Shawn. I used to think it was an evolving G_d, as in that movement from cruel to kind, towards the good in the very word itself, G_D. But now I feel the stories are deliberate, to make us deliberate, THINK. We are meant to sort the wheat from the chaff, at least now. What is cruel is wrong, even when G_d ordains this. Offer yourself, Abraham, not your son. That is the right thing to do under circumstances of such duress. Now that we can go back over this, it feels like what's present is to sort the wheat from the chaff, as Ruth. Reply

Reuven Chicago April 28, 2014

Shawn, The more you read and think about the actual words of the Torah--reading it without preconceived notions--the more you realize that man created the deity instead of the other way around. There is no other answer that is logically viable. Go outside and look at nature. You see no supernatural miracles occuring. If you could transport yourself back to Biblical times, you would find the same nature operating according to the laws of physics without any supernatural miracles. Reply

Shawn Fairborn April 14, 2014

A cruel g-d? I see people talking about awe, and holy terror, and the fear of g-d as a first step and spiritually it makes sense. All theistic religions have this format to some degree. Only the Torah however displays the punishing side of g-d in such a vicious and quite frankly, sociopathic manner. So, my question is this...where does that leave understanding g-d and the Torah for Judaism? Is the Torah divinely inspired, but written ultimately be flawed people with flawed and eccentric story telling? Or, is the Torah truly divine and the word of g-d, making g-d more like a sociopathic abusive spouse/parent to the Jewish people? Or, is g-d evolving along with his creation, making g-d not perfect or omniscient or even omnibenevolent(which I find hard for anyone to claim when you read the Torah). I would really like to know the plain, bold truth of this. I do not mean to besmirch Hashem, or challenge anyone's faith, but I strongly struggle with this and it pains me. Thank you. Reply

Awe Paris, France October 12, 2012

RESPECT Excellent definition of respect. Really deep. It touched me. Reply

Anonymous Terrassa, Spain October 10, 2012

Reply to ABE Abe. Thanks for your reply. Think about this. You get into a taxi and think you are going on a vacation to the Carribean. You have your mindset on a good vacation and your luggage packed. Instead the taxi takes you to the hospital where you will by operated on. Imagine what a disappointment! Now imagine they tell you that you have a tumor which needs to be operated. Then your reaction will be different.

You are in this world to be operated on, to make tikkun, to correct your soul. The disappointment with G-d comes because your expectations in life are different from what He plans for you. His main purpose for you is to make tikkun and become stronger, and cure you from sin. The evil inclination, the mitzvot and everything in life are just a tool in G-d's hands for your tikkun and spiritual growth. When you don't know your purpose in life, you accuse G-d, misunderstand Him, or think that He is cruel as in Job's case. G-d sends difficulties & trials for you to make tikkun & be cured. Reply

Abe London, UK October 7, 2012

p.s. some questions and thoughts from anon 1. We are actually enticed to sin by our yetzer hara which is doing G-d's WILL. Doesn't fit in with your analogy.

2. What happens when the fear becomes more destructive than the deed?

3. Do you starve your child to stop her running into the road? Beat her? Throw her out of the house? I see G-d doing this so I think you'd better rethink your analogy to fit this in.

4. If she runs into the road and gets hurt do you make her better or continue to punish her? Do comfort her or continue to place fear into her? Because if you trip over the very stumbling block G-d places in front of you then He punishes you. To make your analogy fit you'd have to ENTICE your daughter into the road and punish her if she does so. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 7, 2012

The feminine voice is the voice of the Shekinah, and it's not random that there is SHE in the word, even the Hebrew, because it's truly astounding what one sees in words, if one is allowed and the gates of perception can be open, closed, or open a chink, and it's all up to G_d and an individual climb. Neither could the HE in She be random.

I do a lot of email and I see curiously that if we add an F to this we get FEMAIL and that is aurally also Female. I think G_d has an immense sense of humor, and that it's ALL G_d, and to see this, is to enter that Gate and embrace a new and coming consciousness which will add conscience to the mix as we need to put the kind right back into mankind. A Global Wave that will sweep the world and usher in a new way of being. The is "way" in WAVE. Listen to words because the keys ARE in the words!

And messengers are here to remind us, we have a "mess" to clean up and lots of meaningful work ahead of us. To save the world. Reply

Abe London, UK October 7, 2012

to anonymous, madrid, spain These analogies are very cute but mount to nothing. G-d very clearly does not use fear in the sense of your story. You use fear to protect the one you love. But G-d loves fear ITSELF. Just read the book if Job. Why did G-d treat Job so badly? Job was righteous and didn't need fear or punishment to do what's right. He WAS! doing right and G-d punished him. Why? Well the book of Job answers you - Because G-d CAN! Might is right. In fact those 3 friends of Job who said basically what you said got punished by G-d for being wrong. They defended G-d and were punished for it. G-d said Job was right all along but He still put him through all of that.

Please don't bring these analogies. The only people who are immature and who don't understand are the ones bringing them. Reply

Anonymous Madrid, Spain September 25, 2012

Response: G_d sounds like Henry VIII You mention: "It is a very weak and pitiful G_d if He has to rely on fear". I am a Father of a 4 year old girl. A few weeks ago on the way to school, she let go my wife's hand and just ran across the street when she spotted her friend. A car nearly hit her. The driver stopped on time. We had to punish her and rely on her fear of punishment until she is old enough to see danger and reason for herself. Until then, she needs to fear our punishment, which is really meant for her own safety. G-d does not need to use fear to keep us from sin and harm. The fear element is only for those who are not spiritually mature to realize that they can damage their souls by doing wrong. Until we are spiritually mature enough, fear has to keep us from doing wrong, for our own safety. Don't get the wrong image of G-d. G-d is like a loving Father. When you become a Father yourself you will understand the "Father heart" of G-d. He is called AV Ha Rahaman, which means the merciful Father Reply

Abe London, UK September 14, 2012

G_d sounds like Henry VIII It is a very weak and pitiful G_d if He has to rely on fear Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC September 10, 2012

Re: Oral Tradition There are countless verses in the Tanach that speak about G-d's love for mankind, desire for them to repent and not be punished, and how the power of good and reward is that much greater than evil and consequences.

But yes, there is still indeed a difference. The Written Torah generally speaks with a voice of authority and transcendence, the oral Torah, a softer voice of continuing dialogue and analysis. These are often referred to as the masculine and feminine components of Torah, perhaps associated with this need of both awe and love in our service of G-d mentioned in the article.

However, this is because the Torah, from the very beginning, contains both elements! The oral tradition was given at Sinai and passed throughout the ages.

More here: Reply

Anonymous Madrid, Unlisted/None September 7, 2012

You HAVE to fear G-d When you have faith in G-d, your motivation from abstaining from doing wrong and sinning is the fear of G-d. The fear of G-d, is knowing that He exists and that He judges our actions and pays us back in accordance with our actions, means that we fear Him and His retributions when we sin. Most people sin because they do not believe G-d really exists. They do not fear Him because their do not believe in Him. If you want to sin and you know that eventhough nobody sees you, if you believe that G-d sees you and you have faith in Him, then you know that He will judge you, then you fear Him, since you will have to give account of your actions to Him. Fear is a great thing in that it helps us avoid wrong actions and motivates us to do good. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma September 7, 2012

Fear of G_D I believe life gives us plenty of reason to fear G_D because we cannot pick up a newspaper without reading something terrible that has befallen one of us, and what keeps "coming down" is more terrible and so what we can do is try to pick up the pieces, as in help as best we can. Yesterday morning a huge lamp fell from our ceiling coming smashing to the floor. Had my granddaughter or anyone been underneath they would have suffered terribly and it was a sobering thought, and will continue to bring nightmares of what if. Strangely the lamp fell exactly on a mat I had put in this position while cleaning, some hours before. So the floor was undamaged.

It seems a metaphor for "what's coming down", for "picking up the pieces", and for trying to parse out feelings, because yes, fear is part of the mix and when you love someone, you do not want them hurt, you do not want to witness suffering or be part of it, so you do your best to prevent and to help when it happens. But FEAR is part of this. Reply

Dr. Harry Hamburger September 6, 2012

Do not be afraid of punishment If you want to truly understand the nature of judgement and punishment in the world to come, I suggest you read, "Minhat Yehuda", by Rabbi Fetaya. Through first hand discussions with the Heavenly Court, he teaches that the "punishment" is actually a cleansing of the garments of our soul. Just like you beat a dirty rug to get the dust off, the soul may be beaten, burned, or drown to remove the dirt of sin accumulated through our lifetime.

When, however ,we judge ourselves, and repents on Earth, the judgement and punishment above is not necessary.

Reflect upon this as you approach Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and you will be OK. Reply

Ron Sharpe Tijuana, Mexico September 6, 2012

Afraid of G-D At my University in Melbourne, Australia a group of students from all faiths and religions, including Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindus, Buddhists etc. etc meet weekly to discuss many subjects. A recurring subject was " Did Man create God or did G-d create Man". The contents of these debates are too long for me to outline here. However, one conclusion was, that it really doesn't matter, since one thing for sure, every faith/religion and their variants made up their own rules in respect to praying, observing and how to sin and be forgiven. Each faith/religion decided how much they should fear their God or be scared if their God and whether it is more important to pray to their God or spend that time 'doing good unto others'. The choice is up to man since he has a free will. Or is it? Reply

Mona September 6, 2012

Knowledge of G-d I appreciate that some of the authors above question the existence of G-d. What I don't agree with is their overall grand statements that no one knows if G-d exists.

I know G-d exists. My amazing experiences in life have proven it. Absolutely, 100% G-d exists. That is my knowledge, my belief, and my reality.

I think it's best if we share from our own personal views, without deciding one's own view, experiences, belief fit everyone else's views, experiences and belief. Reply

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