Fear of God

Excerpts from The Zohar

189) “In the beginning God created.” This is the very first Mitzva [commandment]. This Mitzva is called “the fear of God,” and it is called Resheet [beginning/head], as in “
The fear of the Lord is the Resheet [beginning] of wisdom.” It is also written, “The fear of the Lord is the Resheet [beginning] of knowledge,” since fear is called Resheet. Also, it is the gate by which to enter faith, and the whole world exists on this Mitzva.

Why is it written that fear is the beginning of wisdom and that it is the beginning of knowledge? It is because fear is the beginning of each and every Sefira, for no Sefira can be obtained if not by first obtaining fear.

This is why he says that it is the gate by which to enter faith, as it is impossible to obtain whole faith if not out of fear of God. And by the measure of fear is the measure of installment of faith. For this reason, the whole world exists on this Mitzva, for the world exists only on Torah and Mitzvot, as it is written, “If not My covenant day and night, I would not put the ordinances of heaven and earth.”

And since fear is the beginning and the gate of every Mitzva, as it is the gate of faith, it follows that the whole world exists on fear, as it is written, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” With fear, which is called Resheet, in which all the Mitzvot are included, God created the heaven and the earth. And were it not for fear, God would not create a thing.

190) Fear is interpreted in three discernments, two of which do not contain a worthy root, and one is the root of fear. There is a person who fears the Creator so that his sons will live and not die, or fears a bodily punishment, or a punishment to one’s money, hence he always fears Him. It follows that the fear he fears of the Creator is not placed as the root, for his own benefit is the root, and the fear is the result of it.

And there is a person who fears the Creator because he fears the punishment of that world and the punishment of Hell. Those two kinds of fear—fear of punishment in this world and fear of punishment in the next world—are not the essence of fear and its root.

191) Fear means primarily that one should fear one’s Master because He is great and rules everything, the essence and the root of all the worlds, and all is regarded as nothing before Him, as it is written, “And all the inhabitants of the earth count as nothing.” He will place his will in that place, which is called “fear.”

There are three manners in the fear of God, only one of which is considered real fear:

Fear of the Creator and keeping His Mitzvot so that his sons may live and he will be kept from bodily punishment or a punishment to one’s money. This is a fear of punishments in this world.

When fearing punishments of Hell, as well.

Those two are not real fear, for he does not keep the fear because of the commandment of the Creator, but because of his own benefit. It follows that his own benefit is the root, and fear is a derived branch of his own benefit.

Fear, which is the most important, when one fears one’s Master because He is great and rules over everything, the essence and the root of all the worlds, and everything is considered nothing compared to Him, for He is the root from which all the worlds expand. Also, His glory appears over all His deeds, and He rules over everything because all the worlds He has created, upper and lower, are considered nothing compared to Him, for they add nothing to His essence.

It was said, “And he will place his will in that place, which is called ‘fear,’” meaning he will place his heart and desires in that place, which is called “fear.” He will cling to fear of the Creator willingly and voluntarily, as is befitting and proper with the King’s commandment.

192) Rabbi Shimon wept and said, “Woe if I tell, woe if I do not tell. If I tell, the wicked will know how to serve their Master. If I do not tell, the friends will lose that thing,” for where there is holy fear, there is evil fear below correspondingly, which strikes, and beats, and slanders. It is a strap with which to lash the wicked, to punish them for their sins. This is why he feared telling, so the wicked would not know how to be rid of the punishment, for their punishment is their purification.

By that, he implies that he could not reveal his words in full in this place so as not to harm the wicked. This is because here he came to disclose how to cling to the tree of life, and never touch the tree of death, and only those who have already corrected the discernment of the tree of knowledge of good and evil are worthy of it. But the wicked, who have yet to correct the sin of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, must not know it, for they first need to toil in all the labors until they correct the sin of the tree of knowledge, as it is written, “Lest he reached out his hand and took also from the tree of life and ate, and lived forever.”

After Adam sinned with the tree of knowledge, he was expelled from the Garden of Eden for fear that he would cling to the tree of life and live forever, and the flaw he had caused in the tree of knowledge would forever remain uncorrected. Hence, to not be lost from the righteous, who are worthy of knowing that thing, he disclosed the matter by way of intimation.

193) And one who fears the punishment of striking and hatred, that fear of God—called “fear of God for life”—is not on him. Rather, that evil fear is on him, that strap, and not the fear of God.

194) For this reason, the place called “fear of God” is called “the beginning of knowledge,” and this is why this Mitzva is included here. This is the root and the foundation of all the Mitzvot of the Torah. One who keeps the fear keeps everything, and one who does not keep the fear does not keep the Mitzvot of the Torah, for fear is the gate to everything.

This relates to what is written once as, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and once as “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” He explained that at the end of the holy fear, called “fear of God for life,” there is evil fear below, which strikes and beats and slanders. And it is a strap to whip the wicked, and its legs go down to death, for one who keeps the Mitzva of fear because He is great and rules over everything clings to the fear of God for life.

It is written about those who fear because of the punishment of the strikes, and not because of a Mitzva, “What the wicked fears will come upon him.” This is so because the fear of the end governs over him and strikes him. And in that respect, that the end of the fear is in an evil strap—to strike the wicked—the high and holy fear is also called by the name, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” It indicates that one should cling only to her beginning, which is the fear of God for life, and to beware of the first fear, which is the evil strap. By that, the sin of the tree of knowledge is corrected.

195) For this reason, it writes Beresheet [In the beginning], meaning with fear, “God created the heaven and the earth,” for one who breaches this one breaches all the Mitzvot of the Torah. And the punishment of one who breaches this one is that that evil strap, the evil fear, strikes him. It is as it was written, “And the land was Tohu ve Bohu [unformed and void], and darkness over the face of the deep, and the spirit of God.” Those are the four punishments by which to punish the wicked.

196) “Tohu” is strangulation, as it is written, “The line of desolation” [Tohu is translated once as “desolation” and once as “unformed”], and as it is written, “A measuring rope.”

Bohu” is stoning, stones that are sunk in the great deep to punish the wicked.

“Darkness” is burning, as it is written, “And when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, and the mountain was burning with fire,” darkness, cloud, and mist to high heaven. This is a strong fire over the heads of the wicked to burn them.

Those who do not keep the fear of God because of the King’s commandments, but for fear of punishment, are caught in the Klipa of Tohu, and wonder why they do not understand the thoughts and words of the Creator. This Klipa is regarded as a strangling rope over one’s neck, which stops the air of Kedusha [holiness] for his breath of life. And it is written, “The line of desolation,” “A measuring line.” In the first verse, it said, “The line of desolation,” and in the second verse it said, “A measuring line,” and one comes and teaches about the other.

The meaning of the line of Tohu is a measuring line. This is because as the line and the measure of one’s bewilderment, so is the measure of the line that the Sitra Achra throws on one’s neck and strangles him, as it is written, “Those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood.”

Hence, “Bohu” is stoning. Once he has been caught by the Sitra Achra with a rope on his neck, they have the strength to do with him as they please: to stone him, to burn him, or to kill him with a sword. Stoning means that they break his skull through evil desires and evil thoughts, and pull him to the great deep to punish him.

Darkness is burning, which is over the head of the wicked, to burn them, meaning that the Sitra Achra surrounds him with a strong fire that burns away the livelihood of Kedusha [holiness] from them.

197) “Spirit” is killing by the sword, since the stormy wind [“wind” also means “spirit” in Hebrew] is a serrated sword that blazes in him, as it is written, “and the flaming sword that turned every way.” It is called “spirit,” and it is a punishment for one who breaks the Mitzvot of the Torah that are written after fear, Resheet, which is everything. This is so because after Beresheet, fear, it is said “Tohu and Bohu and darkness, and spirit,” which are the punishment of four deaths. Henceforth, the rest of the Mitzvot of the Torah.

The Sitra Achra sends a stormy wind upon him, which is like a serrated sword, which separates his head from his body and ends his life. This is the punishment for one who breaches the Mitzvot of the Torah that are written after fear, Resheet, which is everything, meaning that all the Mitzvot in the Torah are included in the first two verses from Beresheet to “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” And the punishment mentioned for one who breaks the Mitzvot of the Torah, which is the four deaths implied in Tohu, Bohu, darkness, and spirit, are written after fear, which is called Resheet, implied in the words, “Beresheet [in the beginning] God created.”

It follows that the first verse is fear, Resheet, the primary fear for life, and the second verse is the punishment for one who is not adhered to fear, Resheet. These are everything, for they are the gate to faith in the Creator. It follows that all the Mitzvot in the Torah are included in it. Henceforth, the rest of the Mitzvot in the Torah are from the verse, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’” onward all detailing of the commandment of fear.

Comments