There's a theme that appears a lot in the commentaries that being afraid of holiness, ashamed of nakedness and so on are either good things, or unfortunate results of bad things.

For an example of the former, we have this Haamek Davar from the Netziv:

And they heard the voice: The rule is that in a place where, relative to the recipient, it is not fit for there to be a revelation of the Divine Presence, but the time nevertheless necessitates a revelation of the Divine presence, there is a sounding of a [loud] voice. It is like the metaphor of the Sages, may their memory be blessed, "A coin in an [otherwise empty] barrel calls, 'Kish, kish' (makes much noise)." And for that reason, they said in Sotah 9b concerning Shimshon, that the Divine Presence was beating in front of him like a [bell] clapper. And that is because he was not properly prepared - regarding the separation from desire for a woman - for the attainment of the holy spirit; but he attained the holy spirit nevertheless. So behold, up until now, Adam was clinging to the Divine Presence; and the woman did not see or know what the revelation of the Divine Presence was at all, but was rather like a monkey. However, from the time they ate from the tree of knowledge, both of them understood the greatness of that thing.

It sounds like it is saying that the greatness of the revelation of the Divine Presence was only noticed once they sinned. I.e., now that they have knowledge of Good and Evil, they are able to recognise the holiness, whereas before they were ignorant to it. So regardless how you interpret the connection between the sin and the improvement, either way this aspect of things is an improvement and is therefore to their credit.

This Rashi also sounds like it is saying the same sort of thing:

וייראו מגשת אליו AND THEY WERE AFRAID TO STEP NIGH UNTO HIM — Come and see how great is the power (influence) of sin! For before they streched forth their hand to sin what does Scripture say? (Exodus 24:17) “And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel”, — and yet they were not afraid and did not tremble! But after they made the golden calf they recoiled and trembled even at the sight of the rays of glory of Moses! (Sifrei Bamidbar 1:8)

I normally read this Rashi as "before the Golden Calf, they were ignorant to the awe one should feel in the presence of Hashem's Greatness, but now look at the power of sin, the end result of the sin and the teshuva is a higher level than before: they now feel the awe and are unable to even look at Moshe's holy face".

However I am also wondering, maybe it's not to be read that way. Maybe it's a descent, not an ascent. Maybe this is non-ideal. Being pure and sin-free allows one to look Hashem in the eye, so to speak, without shame, which is higher and better. Not being able to is to one's discredit. The "power of sin" ruined it.

Malbim on Bereshit 3:8 (along with the pashut understand of the events in 3), imply that this is indeed a lower madregah.

They heard the voice. Before the sin they were able to communicate with Hashem directly, as Moshe did, without the assistance of the imagination. Therefore their prophecies were accompanied by no sensory perceptions, either audible or visual. That is why they experienced no fright, unlike later prophets. Now, however, their physical natures had become dominant and their prophecies were cloaked in more tangible garb.

I've seen other midrashim as well that imply this shame and embarrassment is a step down. I'll try to quote them.

So which is it? Is it to our credit, or our discredit, if we can recognise, and feel ashamed and in awe of, the Greatness of the Divine Presence? Or perhaps it's a mixed answer - the more awe and shame we feel, yet are able to stand up straight despite that, the better, because truly it is fitting for a finite being to be in awe of Hashem, yet at the same time, if the finite being can emulate Hashem and stand straight in His Presence, such a person has truly made the best of all sides and become a gadol.

Edit: I noticed the other day that the Arizal holds Hevel accountable for having gazed at the Divine Presence as it descended to consume his offering (and hence was chayiv mita). This is an interesting data point.


2 Answers 2


We find that even before the sin, they were afraid to hear Hashem’s voice, by Mattan Torah - because they were afraid that they might die - and Hashem praised them for this (Devarim 5:20-25), and even Moshe - who spoke with Hashem, and was able to gaze upon Hashem’s glory - hid his face by the burning bush (although there is an argument in the Gemara (Berachos 7a) as to whether Hashem was happy with that, considering his level of greatness), and the Ben Yehoyada explains that Moshe did not want to see Hashem’s face in order that he remain in his physical body etc.

There is also the concept of not gazing excessively at the things that represent Hashem’s glory, in a case where it isn’t necessary, such as the rainbow, the Nassi, and the Kohanim while they recite the blessings in the Beis Hamikdash (Chagigah 16a), and even by Matan Torah, those who gazed upon Hashem’s glory while eating - which is disrespectful - and drinking were punished (Vayikra Rabbah 20:10)

so it would seem that there is a difference between the fear of “seeing his face” and “hearing His voice” - which is praiseworthy and relevant in all situations, regardless of one’s level (aside from Moshe, perhaps), as part of the Mitzvah of fearing Hashem - and just seeing “His glory”, which had they been on the proper level, they wouldn’t need to be afraid to do, when done respectfully and only when necessary

  • Thank you v much. +1 for the relevant sources and taking the time. The answer overall doesn't sum up its conclusion and I am not able to see your intentions of tying all the sources together, so if you find any more time, I would be pleased if you could summarise a conclusion in the context of the question.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    May 2, 2023 at 20:23
  • Do you think the Alshich's comments on this pasuk are relevant? sefaria.org/Psalms.119.6?lang=bi&with=Alshich&lang2=en
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 3, 2023 at 14:29
  • @RabbiKaii, interesting source - it definitely seems relevant
    – שלום
    Sep 3, 2023 at 14:40
  • Trying to tie it with what you wrote... Shame is appropriate to imperfection. I.e. if we don't keep all the mitzvot with all the details, we should rightly feel ashamed about it. However, there is a theoretical point of perfection where shame is no longer appropriate (sorry this sounds so obvious, really a head-scratcher this one).
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 3, 2023 at 14:44
  • @RabbiKaii, It seems like there are different levels of revelation, and the greater the revelation, the more refined one is required to be…
    – שלום
    Sep 3, 2023 at 14:53

Found a source in favour of the great goodness of having shame about being naked (all thanks to @Shmuel). Rav Hoffman writes:

בתחילה נברא האדם בלי דעת טוב ורע. אפילו הבושה להתהלך ערום, שהיתה סגולתם של כל בני קדם הידועים לנו, אף אותה לא ידעוה אדם וחוה

At first, man was created without the knowledge of good and evil. They didn't even know the shame of walking naked, which was the valuable trait of all the ancestors we know.

It was to Adam and Eve's immaturity that they didn't know, according to this explanation, but the goal was to teach them Himself. See here, or Shmuel's answer.

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