Dear Ask-The-Rabbi Rabbi,

When my grandfather passed away, someone described him as a “G‑d-fearing man.” I’m still trying to digest that one. Is that good or bad? Isn’t G‑d all about love? Why am I supposed to be scared of Him?

—Alvie Nidislov

Hi Alvie,

Love that question.

I once met a man named Marvin Elkind, who told me he never knew fear—except for once in his lifetime. And Marvin hadn’t exactly lived life in hazard-proof packaging. His parents had put him in a foster home as a child because he was so belligerent. He had fought as a professional boxer, and once worked as a driver for the biggest gangsters in New York. When I met him, he was secretly working for the Toronto police force, turning in the most dangerous criminals.

But only one thing had ever scared him. What was it?

“I The only time he had ever experienced fear was when driving Golda Meir to a dinner.was a chauffeur in Toronto,” Marvin told me. “And once, my boss had me drive Golda Meir to a dinner.”

“What on earth was scary about that?” I asked.

“You don’t get it? You’re driving down the Bridle Path [the mighty mansion drive of Toronto], and you’ve got Golda Meir in the back seat!”

“Was she pointing a gun at you?”

“Don’t be stupid. She’s Golda Meir! Boy, I was dripping sweat like a racehorse.”

Fear Out of Awe

Some people are afraid of getting a ticket. Others are afraid of getting injured in an accident. Others are afraid their car might get scratched. Marvin didn’t know that kind of fear. Yet he was driving at 20 miles per hour and coming to a full stop at every stop sign, just because Golda Meir was in the back seat. It had nothing to do with consequences. It had everything to do with his state of being. I mean, she’s Golda Meir, and he’s her driver.

So You’re in the driver’s seat, and He’s relying on you to drive your very best.a G‑d-fearing person, like your grandfather, might be someone with that kind of fear. Or let’s call it awe. It’s a state of sustained reverence—a constant awareness that wherever you go, wherever you look, everything is the ongoing glorious work of the Master Creator, and He’s right there, within each event and beyond all of them, both at once. And He’s put you in the driver’s seat, and He’s relying on you to drive your very best.

And so, of course, without having to think of any other reason, you do the right thing, staying well within the two white lines. Just because G‑d is so totally awesome.

Fear Out of Love

That’s one kind of fear of G‑d. There’s another. The fear that emerges out of love.

Imagine you are a small child brought for your first day of preschool. Everything looks fun, the teachers are friendly and loving, and there are plenty of kids and toys to play with. But then, you notice that your mommy or daddy is about to leave. All the fun, toys and new friends are forgotten. You run, screaming, to hold tight to the hand that brought you here.

Child psychologists call that separation anxiety. Child psychologists call that separation anxiety.We are all children of G‑d, and we all fear separation. It’s healthy. It keeps us attached. It keeps us from doing the wrong things—the things that could tear us away from G‑d. And it drives us to do the right things for the right reason: not for selfish or self-centered motives, but because it’s the right thing to do and that’s what our Creator wants of us.

Two Fears in One

The first type of fear is a kind of disappearing act—you feel distant and so small that you don’t take up any space. You feel like a servant.

The second type of fear—fear that emerges from love—is far more intimate and deep. You feel both close and distant, precious and small, both at once. You feel like a child.

Both are crucial. The foremost thought to have in mind, wherever you go, whatever you are doing, is: “I’m not in charge. I didn’t make this place. And, hey, Whoever did has gotta be real big and totally awesome.”

But then, there has to be some sort of relationship between you and this totally big and awesome Master of the Universe. Because if there isn’t, you’re not going to throw your entire being into fulfilling the mission He’s given you. That’s where the relationship, the bonding and the love, comes in.

Yet within every heartbeat of that love, just beneath the surface, lies the knowledge that this love could be broken, this relationship torn to shreds—and you cannot bear the thought, even if just for a moment.

Everything is love. Even fear is love.Even fear is love. Cherish that fear. It will keep you on the straight path and lead you to great heights. And it will ensure that the love deep within your heart will always burn bright.