Unless you’re hooked on horror movies, you wouldn’t intentionally choose to experience fear. Yet this week’s Torah portion states explicitly, “Now Israel, what does Ad-nai your God request of you? Simply to ‘fear’ Ad-nai your God…” (Deut.10:12)
Ironic that the one emotion people might arguably shun the most is the one thing God requests of us! How come?
To understand this we need to dig a little deeper into the notion of fear, and, especially, “fear” when it comes to God.
It’s worth considering – outside the scope of this essay – that emotions in general are necessary for the survival of the species. In essence, fear protects us in avoiding any given danger; which just sharpens the question, “Why would God want us to ‘avoid’ Him?” especially when it appears to be the “one thing” that God is requesting of us!
Of course, we are all aware that we were also commanded to “love God…” back in Deuteronomy 6:4. How does a person combine “love” and “fear” at the same time?
If we were to closely examine our own relationship with a person we love, we might well realize that an important element of our love for them is the degree to which we “fear” hurting them, by engaging in behavior they would find objectionable. One reason that “fear” is an appropriate term is the fact that the actual feeling is identical to our other experiences of fear. In addition, just as our other fears help us avoid danger, this experience of fear helps us avoid the “danger” of destroying the loving relationship we have!
In past generations it was a great compliment to call someone “God fearing”. It was a way of saying that such a person had such high moral standards that he or she would avoid acting immorally even in a situation where there was zero chance of discovery.
As humans we have the distinctive characteristic of being able to control our emotions to a greater or lesser extent. The Talmud notes (b.Berachot 33b), “Said R. Chanina. ‘Everything is under Divine control, except for the “fear” of God, since it states “What does Ad-nai your God request of you? Simply (i.e. “only”) to ‘fear’ Ad-nai your God…”’”