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Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )

CHAPTER XXIV

CONCERNING THE FEAR OF SIN

OUR SEEING that this trait comes after all of the worthy traits heretofore mentioned is enough to awaken us to its great nobility, its integral significance and the difficulty of its attainment; for it can be attained only by one who has already acquired all of the previously mentioned traits.

At the outset it should be stated that there are two types of fear, which resolve themselves into three types. The first type is very easy to attain; there is nothing easier. The second is the most difficult of attainment, and perfection in it is, accordingly, of a very high order. The first type is fear of punishment and the second, fear of Divine Majesty, of which fear of sin is a part. We shall now explain these types of fear and their differences.

Fear of punishment, as the words imply, consists in a person's being afraid of violating God's commands, because of the punishmer+ to body or soul which is meted out for transgressions. This type of fear is certainly easy to attain, for every man loves himself and fears for his soul; and there is nothing more effectual in withdrawing one from an action than the fear that it might harm him in some way. But this type of fear befits only the ignorant and women, who lack sufficient strength of mind; it is not the fear of sages and of men of understanding.

The second type of fear, fear of Divine Majesty, consists in one's withdrawing himself and abstaining from sin because of the great honor of the Blessed One. For how can a lowly, despicable heart of flesh and blood permit and abide the doing of what is opposed to the will of the Creator of blessed and exalted Name? This type of fear is not very easily attained, for it is born only of the knowledge and intelligence which go into reflection upon the majesty of the Blessed One and the lowliness of man. It is born only of the activities of the understanding, insightful mind. It is this type of fear which was classified as the second half of one of the divisions of Saintliness which we discussed earlier. One who experiences it will feel shame and will tremble in standing before his Master to pray or in performing an act of Divine service. This is the extremely worthy type of fear in which the great Saints distinguished themselves. As stated by Moses (Deuteronomy 28:58), "To fear this honored, Awesome Name, the Lord, your G-d."

The fear of sin which we are here concerned with is, in one respect, part of the fear of Divine Majesty mentioned above, and, in another, a distinct entity. It consists in a person's constantly fearing and worrying that some trace of sin might have intruded itself into his actions or that they contain something, small or great, which is inconsonant with the grandeur of the Blessed One's honor and with the majesty of His Name. Here we see the strong relationship between fear of sin and fear of Divine Majesty - their common concern being that one do nothing in opposition to the great Majesty of the Blessed One. There is a distinction between them, however, which sets the fear of sin apart and gives it its distinct name : The fear of Divine Majesty obtains only during the performance of a deed, during Divine service, or upon the materialization of an opportunity for transgression. That is, when one is standing in prayer or engaging in Divine service, he should feel ashamed and degraded; he should quake and tremble before the supreme Majesty of the Blessed One. Or, when an opportunity for transgression presents itself to him, and he recognizes it as such, he must keep himself from sinning so that nothing be done contrary to the honor of the Blessed One (God forbid). The fear of sin, however, obtains at all periods and times. At every moment one must be afraid of going astray and doing something or part of a thing in opposition to the honor of the Blessed One's Name. Hence, the expression "fear of sin," the essence of the fear being that sin not enter into and involve itself in one's actions, whether through an intentional act, weakness, oversight or any other means. In relation to this it is said (Proverbs 28:14), "Happy is the man who fears always," which our Sages of blessed memory interpreted (Berachoth 60a) as referring to matters of Torah. Even when one does not see a stumbling block before him, his heart must tremble within him for fear that he is threatened by one hidden at his feet. About such fear, Moses our Teacher, may Peace be upon him, said (Exodus 20:17), "And so that His fear be upon your faces, that you not sin." This is the central element in fear - that a person constantly fear and tremble until the fear can no longer depart from him. In this manner he will certainly avoid sin, and any sin that he might commit will be accounted accidental. Isaiah said in his prophecy (Isaiah 66:2), "And to such shall I look - to the poor, to the broken in spirit and to those who tremble at my word." King David exulted in the possession of this trait, saying (Psalms 119:161), "Princes pursued me for naught and my heart feared at Your word." We find that the majestic, exalted angels constantly fear and tremble before God's greatness. Our Sages of blessed memory say by way of analogy (Chagigah 13b), "What is the source of the stream of fire?-the sweat of the holy creatures." The angels respond in this manner because of the fear of the Majesty of the Blessed One, which is constantly upon them and which causes them anxiety as to any possible failings on their part in relation to the honor and holiness demanded by His Presence. Whenever and wherever the Divine Presence manifests itself there is trembling, tumult and fright. As Scripture states (Psalms 68:9), "The earth shook ; even the heavens dripped. .. before God" and (Isaiah 63:19), "Is it for them that You tore the heavens, that You des God and so might easily do what is not in accordance with the majestic honor of the Blessed One. As Eliphaz said to Job (Job 15:14,15), "What is man that he would be found pure? Would one born of woman be found righteous? He does not put trust in His holy ones and the heavens are not pure in His eyes" and (Ibid. 4:18,19), "He puts no trust in His servants and invests not His angels with light. Much more so dwellers m houses of clay . . 37:1,2), "At this, too, my heart fears and is moved from its place, hearing the clamor of His voice..." This is the true fear which should always be upon the face of a Saint and never depart from him.

There are two aspects to this type of fear - the first pertaining to the present or the future, and the second to the past. In relation to the present, a person should always fear and worry that there may be present in what he is doing, or that there might enter into what he is going to do, that which is not in accordance with the honor of the Blessed One, as mentioned above. In relation to the past, a person must fear and worry that he might unknowingly have committed some sin. Bava ben Buta, for example, (Kerithuth 25a) would sacrifice a provisional guilt offering every day.

And Job, after his sons' feast, "arose and sacrificed burntofferings according to the number of all of them; for Job said, "Perhaps my sons have sinned.. .' " (Job 1:5). Our Sages of blessed memory commented along these lines in connection with the oil of anointment with which Moses anointed Aaron, as he was commanded to do in the face of the interdict (Exodus 30:32), "Let it not anoint the flesh of man." They feared that they might have violated the interdict in some way and have committed an act of desecration. (Horioth 12a) : "Moses worried, saying, "Perhaps I have desecrated the oil of anointment,' at which a heavenly voice went forth and said (Psalms 133:2), 'As the good oil upon the head descends upon the beard, the beard of Aaron... as the dew of Hermon.' Just as there is no desecration in relation to the dew of Hermon, so, too, there is no desecration in relation to the oil of anointment upon the beard of Aaron.' But still Aaron was worried, "It may be that Moses did not commit an act of desecration, but that I did,' at which a heavenly voice went forth and said (Ibid.), "How good and how pleasant for brothers to dwell together.' Just as Moses is not guilty of desecration, you, too, are not guilty." We see, then, that it is characteristic of Saints to worry even in relation to the mitzvoth that they have done, fearing that some trace of impurity might have intruded itself into them (God forbid). Abraham, after he had gone to the assistance of his nephew, Lot, who had been taken captive, was afraid that his actions had not been entirely pure. As our Sages of blessed memory said (Bereshith Rabbah 44.4) in relation to the verse (Genesis 15:1), "Do not fear, Avram," "R. Levi said, "Because Abraham was afraid and said, "Perhaps among all the soldiers I have killed there was one righteous man or one who feared Heaven,' he was told, "Do not fear, Avram.' " And in Tana D'bei Eliyahu (Chapter 25) it is stated, "'Do not fear, Avram' - 'Do not fear' is said only to one who fears Heaven in truth." This is the true fear about which it was said (Berachoth 33b), "The Holy One Blessed be He has in His world only a treasure of fear of Heaven." Only Moses because of his intimacy with the Blessed One could attain it easily. Others, unquestionably, are greatly deterred by the earthy element within them. However, it befits every Saint to exert himself to attain as much of this fear as he can, as Scripture states (Psalms 34:10), "Let His holy ones fear God."

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