Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Essence of the Days of Awe

By HaRav Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

In the course of the High Holiday liturgy, we approach God with a most unique request - a request for fear. We pray, "And so, God our Lord, place Your awe upon all Your works, and Your dread upon all that you have created; let all Your works fear you..." Three words, each one expressing a different nuance of the same basic concept - the concept of submission and self-negation of man before his Maker. Only after this do we arrive at the sort of subservience that results from man's own earnest desire and understanding: "[And let] all creatures prostrate themselves before You... Let them all become a united body to do Your will wholeheartedly."

From here, then, we learn that the process of drawing near to the Almighty cannot come about in skips and bounds; rather, it must play itself out step by step: first comes service based upon fear; and then, only afterwards, service deriving from love. Without properly sensing our nothingness, without properly recognizing our true insignificance before God's divine might, we are unable to attain "wholeness of heart" - to do God's will wholeheartedly.

This is the real challenge when it comes to serving God. It is easy for an individual to say: "I am willing to do that which I understand. I am ready to fulfill that which my intellect demands." Yet one who takes this approach is in fact saying: "It is pleasing for me, and I am prepared to fulfill my own desire; it is difficult for me, and it is not pleasing for me to fulfill His desire."

Fear precedes love. Man cannot attain perfect inner unity without labor and effort, refinement and purification, for "the evil inclination dwells in us." True, man was created "in God's image," yet the Scriptures also inform us that "the longing of man's heart is evil from youth." And just as enhancing and bolstering man's Godly image calls for serious effort, so too it is necessary to exert oneself in order to discard the "longing of man's heart" which is "evil from youth." As sure as the crops of the field will not grow unless the thorns and thistles are painstakingly weeded, so too the seeds of goodness that reside in man's soul will not bear fruit unless the seeds of evil are uprooted. Moreover, evil can only be subdued through fear and awe. One who is not willing to allow fear and awe to enter his heart should not expect to reap fruit from his inner "seeds of good."

It was an act of kindness on God's part to establish the High Holidays at the beginning of the year. These are days of fear and awe, days in which the heart is torn so that it may be mended; instead of a severed and broken heart, instead of opposing inner forces at battle with one another - one pulling this way, one the other - we strive to attain a unified heart, to direct our inner forces in one unified direction - "a united body," whose goal is "to do Your will."

Praiseworthy is he who demonstrates a willingness to listen and to see. Praiseworthy is he for whom these days are indeed "Days of Awe," for such a person shall merit both becoming purified by these days, and attaining an upright heart. And the reward of such will be gladness.

"Light is sown for a righteous person, and for the upright of heart - gladness."
May it be God's will that we all be signed and sealed for a good New Year.

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