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Yirat HaShem - The Fear of the LORD

The Fear of the LORD

Further thoughts on Parashat Bechukotai

by John J. Parsons

[ Note: The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bechukotai). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

Our Torah portion this week (Bechukotai) includes a litany of woes assured to befall those who spurn God's Torah or break covenant with Him (Lev. 26:14-46). The deeper intent of this admonition (tochechah) is to warn us of the grave danger of forfeiting our relationship with God – that is, of refusing to be healed of our illusions... Chastisement is a blessing from heaven, the "troubles of love" (יִסּוּרֵי אַהֲבָה) since its goal is to bring us back to God and to deliver us from eternal loss. This is why Yeshua spoke about the dangers of hell: if we do not heed the Voice of divine love, we risk literally everything, and that loss is irremediably eternal... God's warning about hell expresses the great passion of his heart for us; his love calls us to receive eternal life and blessing, but if we refuse to come, we will suffer the loss of the only thing that ultimately matters. As it is written: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God" (אֱלהִים חַיִּים).

The fear of losing love evokes a healthy zeal to protect it from loss... The same may be said of God's relationship with us. The gospel represents God's passion for us, the call of his heart, his desire to elevate us to the role of the beloved, and we respond by accepting Him as the Lover of our souls, the Ultimate Concern of our life. Sin threatens to seduce us away from God's love, to interfere with our relationship, which evokes God's "jealousy" to protect love from loss.  This is what the "fear of the LORD" (יִרְאַת יְהוָה) most radically means: God's own fear that we would lose sight of our great need for his healing love...

It is written that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), but perfect love (τελεία ἀγάπη) must be "perfect," that is, reciprocal, complete, consummated, and alive with passion. In Hebrew, perfect love is "shalem" - that is, whole, healed, and unified (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה). Perfect love is both given and received... It is not "perfect love" to intellectually accept that God loves you in Yeshua our Savior.  No, you must receive this as an inward passion, you must live within it, must embrace it, take possession of it, and let it fill your heart to abundance. This love, this "perfect love," then will cast away your fear of being unwanted, rejected, and abandoned. But to know this love, you have to open your heart and accept it as your own, the essential reality of who you are:

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

a·ni · le·do·di · ve·a·lai · te·shu·ka·to

"I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me"
(Song 7:10)


We are told to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου) since the love of God appeals to all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. Therefore  may you fully accept that you are accepted; may you receive the blessing of God's passion for your soul; may you walk (i.e., live, move, and have your being) in the abundance of God's unfailing and everlasting love.  Amen.

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