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

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



What’s all this business about being “G‑d-fearing”? What are we supposed to be afraid of?


When we say that a person is “G‑d-fearing,” we don’t mean that he or she lives in fear that G‑d might punch them out for doing the wrong thing. The term for that would be “fear of punishment.” (If a great big monster in the sky would be threatening the same, the fear would be the same, right?)

Of course, it’s better to do the right thing because one is afraid of punishment than to kill, steal and cheat because the policeman isn’t looking and one doesn’t believe in a Higher Authority to whom man is answerable for his actions. Still, righteousness that is motivated by fear of punishment does not represent a very high spiritual or moral state of existence.

The chassidic masters explain the true meaning of “G‑d-fearing” as a fear of separation from G‑d, like a child who is afraid of being left alone by its mother. So, too, a healthy soul will recoil from certain actions out of the awareness that these actions will place a barrier between herself and her Beloved, between the “spark of G‑dliness” it embodies and its Source.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Usman September 17, 2015

Thanks Let me first introduce myself. My religion is Islam. I read this site every now and then to clarify my questions about existence of God and our relationship to him. The idea of fear you have mentioned here has explained me alot of things. I just wanted to say thanks much. Reply

Tobie April 28, 2014

Thanks! Rabbi Freeman, that explains a lot! Thank you! Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA April 11, 2013

Fear Hashem When Petitioning Hashem in Prayer Before we petition the L-rd in prayer, our hearts should be striken with fear of Gd, as we are requesting a change to reality, and in fact questioning if our L-rd's oversight of the universe is insufficient. Reply

David Nashville, TN July 5, 2011

Fear of God I am a Christian but I am convinced that G-d uses difficulty and heartache much the same way that a parent uses discipline. It is not fun for the child on the receiving end but in the end, it tends to deepen our reliance on G-d and in the process, we experience what we came here for in the first place. It is comforting to know that all of us who seek G-d have some of the same difficulties with the concept of fearing G-d. Reply

Anonymous Logan December 13, 2010

Fear As a chrstian, I never feared G-d, for 20+ years. Once I began being involved in Judaism, G-d suddenly became real and that was fearsome- a disciplinarian over my head that is omnipotent and can read my every thought and see my every action. Chrstianty was like there was a painting of a bucket of water over my head. Judaism is like there IS a bucket over my head. There is a big difference, and it IS intimidating, even nearly incapacitating for me. I can function- study Torah, daven, etc. but there is an ever present fear- and I can't say I'm fond of it. I came here, to the website, to see how I can transition that fear into something constructive yet less destructive to my stomach. Reply

Anonymous Toronto, Canada via November 6, 2010

Fear of G-d Do not take it literally, but In many instances G-d's anger is obvious. Korach is berried, Sodom and Gomorah are destroyed. Etc etc etc. Even wife of Lod becomes a post of salt.

Is this what we have to fear? Those are just a few instances of his or its anger. It is hard to reconcile with love.
It is not the love, which I would be afraid to lose. I would rather be afraid to be buried as Korach alive.

Seems to be quiet an ominous power. Reply

Richard Jaffeson Silver Spring, MD September 4, 2009

Instead of "fearing," I prefer the word "faring," to join His ship and sail along His journey under His command and also as a result enjoy His "fair" weather and many blessings. As such, we should rejoice and not fear the Lord. Reply

Scholarios-Gennadius San Rafael, CA September 3, 2009

Being G_d Fearing This is a most apt explanation of an extraordinarily misunderstood and taught concept of the relationship between G_d and humankind. I have been fighting this battle for many years, but have come to understand that many humans get a peculiar satisfaction from being afraid of things,which explains the huge success of horror movies. However, there is also the psychological and spiritual damage experienced by many mislead and misunderstanding humans regarding what being "G_d Fearing" means. Reply

cecilia ny September 3, 2009

Hebrew Does anyone know the Hebrew for G-d fearing. I want to see for myself the context of the meaning. Thanks. Reply

Michael N.Dineen Ridgefield, Wa.-USA September 3, 2009

Fear No fear-He is my Father...
He Loves me and I Love HIM.. Reply

Rachel Garber Phila, PA USA September 3, 2009

Usage of G-d fearing I hear "Christians" use that phrase too, they are usually the same people who ask, "are you a Bible believer" I know what they mean by that they are referring to "their Bible", but I don't see why they should have the corner on that market so to speak. I believe in the Bible too. Some groups of people like to use those phrases divisively, as if they have the "truth" and other people don't. Yes, I'm G-d fearing, yes I am a Bible believer, maybe not the way those people mean it, but it certainly describes my beliefs. Reply

Smadar Thornhill, Canada September 3, 2009

Are We Supposed to be Afraid of G‑d? That's a wonderful explanation ... thank you.

A question arises ... in this fear of separation from G-d, who is separating from whom? When one does something "wrong" - such a subjective term - who does the separating. Does G-d separate from us ... or do we separate from G-d. If I look at my own personal experiences, when I do something that is "wrong", the overwhelming guilt causes an emotional barrier between myself and the one I "wronged". I CREATE the distance. Is this what you are referring to.

I think truly it is the FEAR itself that creates the separation.

Ultimately there can be no separation from G-d because we are all ONE ... There is NOTHING but G-d.

May we all be free of fear. Reply

Anonymous monroe, louisiana August 30, 2009

fear no one should fear anything or anyone at all.just try to what is right and stay away from bad influnces in life.any human being with a decent brain that God gave them.should know right from wrong. Reply

Carmen Lambert Sydney, Australia February 15, 2006

Fear of G-d I think Fear in this case means "Awe". Awe is such a powerful emotion it's frightening. It leaves you paralyzed. Why? When G-d touches your life an abstract concept becomes real. Like a statue that comes to life. It doesn't matter how bad or good you've been in life it's still frightening. You no longer believe G-d exists, you know he does. That's a huge shift in thinking. It means for some reason he cares what you do, so you don't want to mess up. Another reason to be afraid. I'm not saying you should be afraid. But I do think it's inevitable. Reply

Anonymous October 10, 2005

Fear? For me the meaning is: Fear is a natural/normal part of life. One must understand fear, it's proper place in the overall scheme of things how to deal with fear in our daily lives. A person must be strong to know fear (the opposite of popular myths). A person must be able to tolerate the feeling of fear mentally/cognitively. This is known as the first step before you can begin to have a real relationship with God. This is well known and time honored. One might say the real definition of courage is not being wthout fear but being with fear and still doing what you have to do. Reply

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