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Yirat Shamayim: Fear and Awe of Heaven as a Mussar-Based Motivation for Change

Week 2, Lesson 8: September 4 / Elul 13

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter [Introduction to Iggeret HaMussar]:

Mankind is free in imagination and bound by the intellect. One’s imagination leads a person wildly in the direction of one’s hearts desires, without fear of one’s inescapable future - when God will account for all of one’s actions, the person will be inflicted with harsh punishments. [The imagination seduces us into thinking that] a stranger will be taken in our place - [this is not true] each person will bear the consequences of his/her sins. The one who transgresses and the one who is punished is but one person …Let no person say, “It is my sickness - I can bear it.”
[Know this] suffering in this world is petty in comparison with the retribution in the next. The soul of a person will be extremely anguished. One day will seem like a year! Woe to us for the imagination, this evil enemy! It is within our hands, within our power, to repel it [the evil inclination] by lending an attentive ear to the intellect, to grasp the truth and measure the reward [i.e., gratification] of sin against its loss [i.e., punishment]. Yet what can we do? The imagination is a surging river, and the intellect will drown unless we place it on a ship. [The ship is] the awakening of the soul and the stirring of the spirit…
We must recognize even without thought and understanding that within us hovers an Emunah (faith) . . . that Elokim (God) is a Judge, to repay each person according to his/her actions (literally: the fruits of one’s actions) - this is the first step of our service to the Blessed One...

Take a moment to consider the role that fear plays on your life. What do you fear? Is your fear tied to this world and material concerns, or to your spiritual life? Can you feel the motivating power that fear embodies?

Which middah or middot can help you to direct your capacity to fear to the highest purposes of your life? Bring this contemplation to your cheshbon ha’nefesh practice for today. Click this link to access your practice instructions for this week.

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Today’s learning is sponsored by Barry Block in honor of Rich Lewis, who exemplifies the middah of kavod – honor.

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