The Power of Teshuvah – Day 19
Strategy 3: Increase Yiras Shamayim
If service to God is a Jew’s “job,” then yiras Shamayim is his tool for performing it. A Jew is no more able to live a full Jewish life without yiras Shamayim than a carpenter is able to bang in a nail without a hammer. This is the lesson King David taught when he wrote: “Serve God with yirah …” “With yirah” means that we are to serve God with a “tool” called yirah. Yirah is the tool that secures our connection with God, ensuring that we cling to His will with tenacity.
Rabbeinu Yonah explains that of all the qualities one must possess to serve Hashem, yirah is first and foremost as the Torah lists yirah first: “Hashem, your God, shall you follow and Him shall you fear; His commandments shall you observe and to His voice shall you hearken; Him shall you serve and to Him shall you cleave.”
Although the word yirah as used in the Torah is translated and understood as “fear” the Rambam defines yirah as “awe.” Recognizing Hashem’s greatness not only leads us to love Him, but to be “in awe” of Him as well. However, despite the distinction drawn by Rambam, the two definitions of yirah are really two levels of the same phenomenon.
The yirah that we define as “fear” is yiras ha’onesh, the lesser level of yirah that is the fear of Hashem’s punishing us for sinning, either in this world or the Next. The greater level of yirah — yiras haromemus, which is awe of Hashem — is associated with recognizing Hashem’s greatness, which inspires us to love Him.
In order to sin, a person pushes away his yirah. In order to do teshuvah, he must let this awareness back into his consciousness. Whether a person is driven by yiras ha’onesh or yiras haromemus, there can be no teshuvah without some aspect of yirah.
A person who accepts God as the King over every aspect of Creation, and who believes that his own deeds invoke reward or punishment in both this world and the Next, is driven to look for the meaning in his life’s circumstances. In contradistinction, those who believe their misfortunes are the result of coincidences or bad luck have lost their connection to God, the Torah, and mitzvos. A belief in happenstance stops teshuvah in its tracks.
The Torah, itself, decries a belief in happenstance, including it among the sins that evoke tragedies. The Rambam warns, “One should not be like agnostics who go with happenstance in their hearts.”
Misfortune can only motivate us toward teshuvah if we have yirah: the firm, internal knowledge that everything that happens is Hashem’s response to our every word and deed. The Ramban derives this concept from the verse “Hashem, your God, shall you follow and Him shall you fear.” He explains, “One should believe that it is in Hashem’s hands to eradicate life and to give life, and He counts sins and compensates with reward.” For the person with yirah, teshuvah is the clear path to a life of blessing.
Points to Ponder:
- Yirah is the primary tool for serving God.
- Yirah enables a person to recognize God’s hand in the events of his life, thereby motivating teshuvah.