What Does It Mean To “Fear” God?

The mitzvah of יראת השם or יראת שמיים is translated in English as “to fear God.” Referring to an Infinite Creator that is out of the realm of full human comprehension as “God” creates confusion which is common when translating Biblical Hebrew into another language. Similarly, the translation of יראה to mean purely fear, like how one would fear a monster, is another misconception that arises due to translation. Unlike other languages, there are no synonyms in Biblical Hebrew so understanding the differences between seemingly synonymous words is of paramount importance to truly understanding the ways and the word of “God.”

As opposed to פחד which is a word more commonly used to mean pure fear, יראה is a kind of fear one would have when coming in contact with something incredibly magnificent; something that leaves the person coming in contact with it in absolute awe. This can be seen through the fact that the word יראה is composed of the same symbols that make up the words for “sight” (ראיה) and lion (אריה). When one sees a lion in the wild, there is absolutely an element of fear that comes into play. However, there is also an element of wonder, awe, and reverence that rushes through a person when coming into contact with something as extraordinary as a lion.

That is what the command יראת השם truly means. Because human beings are incapable of fully comprehending infinity, the Infinite Creator communicated with us in ways in which we can understand: With speech composed of letters, sounds and numbers known as the Hebrew Aleph Bet. When studying these symbols, one attains the ability to study “God’s” word and with that comes a true knowledge of the Infinite, allowing one to learn that “God” is not at all what much of mainstream thought attributes “Him/Her” to be. Instead, “God” is both a mind-blowingly powerful and infinitely patient entity that loves all of “His/Her” children. All the Infinite asks of us is to treat one another with dignity and respect and to study the Torah composed of the Hebrew Aleph Bet that was given to us thousands of years ago.

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