“For forgiveness is Yours, so that You may be feared.”1 [This verse relates how] King David, whose [soul is] rooted in Malchus of Atzilus,2 pleads and requests mercy before G‑d, asking that He pardon, forgive, and atone for all the iniquities, sins and wanton transgressions committed by the Jewish people before Him. The reason [he is asking G‑d for forgiveness is] “so that You may be feared,” that the fear of G‑d will be drawn down from Him into the midst of the Jewish people.

The explanation given here follows Ibn Ezra’s3 interpretation of this verse. [As Ibn Ezra writes in his gloss, King David is saying]: “When You forgive my sins, sinners will hear and they will also repent, abandoning their sins. If, by contrast, You do not forgive [my sins], they will not fear You and, instead, will carry out their [sinful] desires with the full force of their will.”4

G‑d’s intent for man is that he follow the path of goodness, and if he sins, he should repent, as it is written:5 “Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says G‑d, the L‑rd, ‘I have no desire for the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways.’” Thus the intent of the verse cited originally is that: Since “forgiveness is Yours,” You should forgive me so that You will be feared.

We have to understand the rationale why G‑d’s being abundantly forgiving leads to the fear of Him. One would think that the opposite is true. When G‑d conducts Himself with the attribute of mercy, people will not fear sin so greatly.6 [True, there are limits to His mercies. For example,] one who says, “‘I will sin and then repent,’ is not given the opportunity to repent.”7 By and large, however, G‑d’s exercising the attribute of mercy may well weaken and diminish people’s fear of sin to a certain degree — even if they do not [actually] reach the point of saying, “I will sin and then repent.”

Furthermore, it is stated in Midrash Rabbah8 (regarding the creation of the worlds): “The Holy One, blessed be He, said, ‘If I create them with the attribute of mercy, sinners will increase.’” For the attribute of mercy diminishes fear.

[The need for fear and awe of G‑d is even more urgent when we consider that] when speaking of the fear of sin, the intent is that we fear the sin itself,9 [not only the consequences of sin].10 If so, how is the fact that G‑d is abundant in forgiveness a reason for fearing Him? Seemingly, it is a more appropriate rationale for loving Him: Because He forgives abundantly, He will be loved more.

The interpretation offered by Ibn Ezra, that “when … the people will hear…, they will also repent,” also seems more closely related to feelings of love [than of fear]. For when a baal teshuvah11 is aroused to teshuvah, he is motivated by a powerful desire [to come close to G‑d]. [The fact that the process of teshuvah] will not be so difficult and he will be readily granted forgiveness without having to repeatedly request and plead to G‑d for forgiveness, will arouse [feelings of] love and closeness to the One Who forgives and pardons. If so, [it is necessary to understand, as asked above:] how is [G‑d’s abundant forgiveness] a rationale for [arousing] fear?

Also, from the general thrust of the verse, it would appear that fear is the primary objective of our Divine service, and [to attain the objective] “that You may be feared,” i.e., that there be genuine fear of G‑d, it is fitting that G‑d offer forgiveness. It is understood from all the above that fear is such a lofty service that because of it alone, [G‑d] should be abundant in forgiveness so that one will attain [this service]. It is, however, necessary to understand: the service of love is also a complete service. [Moreover,] it follows a sequence: “with all your heart, [with all your soul, and with all your might”].12 What is the great advantage of fear, that because of its greatness, it is fitting to grant forgiveness?

Summary

[The maamar begins with several] questions: How is forgiveness a motivator for fear [of G‑d]? Also, what is the great advantage of fear that as a result, it is fitting [for G‑d] to grant forgiveness?