Question:

It wasn't that long ago that I was a G‑d fearing person who kept every last mitzvah. But over the past two to three years, slowly but surely, the fear of G‑d that was once instilled in me like a rock dissipated. Shabbat has fallen apart for me. I can't get myself to wrap tefillin or go to shul.

But that is not what is bothering me. What bothers me is that I am not fasting and begging G‑d for forgiveness, that I don't really have remorse for what I have done—when it wasn't too long ago that I would have done all of those things to repent even if it was something as small as forgetting to bless after bread.

In short I am completely disconnected and I would do anything to get that feeling of being close to G‑d and praying to him for hours on end which felt like I WAS in heaven everytime I prayed back then.

Please rabbi, I need some advice as to where I should start in order to get back to being that G‑d fearing person that I once was.

Response:

Perhaps, R___, because relying on fear of G‑d alone is not a proper path for your soul. As Rashi writes,1 the servant who serves out of fear is lesser than the servant who serves out of love. For the servant of fear, as soon as the taskmaster becomes too demanding, flees and hides. But the servant of love will always return.

Fear of G‑d is important. It is the basis of all service—the fear of becoming separated from His oneness and the awe of His ever-presence. But what you are talking about is not that kind of fear. You are talking about fear of punishment. That may have served well in the past to prevent people from sinning—but did it bring anyone into a personal relationship with G‑d? How can you develop a relationship based entirely on avoiding wrath?

Rather, the path to G‑d is paved with love. In truth, even the fear of separation and awe of His presence, this too is love.

Maimonides writes:2

Anyone who serves out of love and occupies himself with Torah and mitzvot and follows the ways of wisdom should not do so for any earthly reason or out of fear of the curses or to receive the blessings, but should fulfill the truth because it is the truth. Out of this he will receive goodness. This level is a very high one, and not every wise person attains it. This is the level of Abraham the Patriarch, whom God called His `friend', for the reason that he served God solely out of love. This is a level which God commanded, via Moses, us to attain, as it is written, "And you shall love the Lord your God". Once a person loves God appropriately, he will fulfill the commandments out of love.

The Shelah comments3 that this that the Rambam calls love is actually the very basic level of service out of true fear. In the language of the Chassidic masters, this is called "accepting the yoke of heaven" and is the beginning of all service.4

How do you achieve this love? You do not need to achieve it, you are born with it innate—only that you must awaken it from its slumber. How do you awaken this love? By meditating on the great love G‑d has for you—that even when you fail to wrap those tefillin for two weeks, and have fallen so far away from Him as to abandon His beautiful Shabbat, nonetheless, His love is not shaken in the slightest and He waits eagerly every day for the pleasure you will provide Him by wrapping those leather boxes once again.

Practically speaking, read the stories of the tzadikim, especially the Baal Shem Tov and his students. Study their teachings, ponder them and discuss them with others. Get to a Tanya class at your local Chabad. You can find Tanya online here: Lessons In Tanya and Tanya Audio

And when you pray, focus on that one, most meaningful word, "You." Confide in Him as your closest friend, and He will respond in kind. Become a servant of love.