I've always heard that we should love G-d with all our hearts but also fear Him. I've understood all my life that fearing G-d is a fundamental midah, something every Jew must have. But I've also heard things and teachings that seem to contradict this:

The first example is a story (possibly a Midrash) of the giving of the Torah to Am Israel. This story says that before G-d gave us the Torah, he placed Har Sinai above all the Yehudim and said that if they didn't accept the Torah He would crush the mountain on them. Instead of answering that they would accept the Torah with fear, they answered with love and joy. Passing G-d's test. This suggests that G-d prefers we do the things He asks because we love Him, and not because we fear Him or the punishment.

The second example is Teshuvah. I heard from my rabbi that there are two ways of doing Teshuvah: one is because of fear of G-d and the other because of love of G-d. A Teshuvah made out of fear is accepted but it's not as good as a Teshuvah made out of love of G-d. This would suggest that doing things out of love of G-d is superior than doing things out of fear of G-d.

Should we actually fear G-d?

  • The first example is an excellent one, I don't think it is a midrash but rather a gmara in Shabbat 88a. The first statement from am Israel was out of love: naase v' nishma (we will do and understand). However explains Tosfot they might have changed their mind when seeing the tremendous fire during the Revelation. To avoid this, God "locked in" their committment by putting the mountain on them. This was to avoid having to "force them" into a new alliance based on fear rather than love
    – mbloch
    Jan 23, 2016 at 20:03
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    Many sources discuss this, e.g.: Deut. 10:12, Avos 1:3, Shabbos 88b, Yoma 86a-b, Y'vamos 48b (& Tosafos, s.v. שאין), N'darim 62a, Sota 22b,27b, 31a, Rambam (Hil. T'shuva 10:1), M'silas Y'sharim ch. 24. A quick comment: "Yir'a" can mean either fear or reverence. One should both love and revere HaShem. Additionally, a person should deeply appreciate the profound reward for serving HaShem and the profound punishment for transgressing His will. However, the ideal motivation that a person is required to strive for is love and reverence of HaShem rather than concerns about personal recompense.
    – Fred
    Jan 24, 2016 at 4:10
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    Additionally, while a person should ideally be motivated by both love and reverence at the same time, there are sources that treat אהבה as a superior motivation to יראה.
    – Fred
    Jan 24, 2016 at 4:14
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    Unclear what you're asking. the Torah commands us to both LOVE and FEAR Gcd. So you want us to decide that we should ignore the Mitzva to fear Gcd? Jan 24, 2016 at 9:28
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    @Gabe12 - of course I did. Jan 24, 2016 at 14:56

4 Answers 4


In Mesilas Yasharim (ch 24), Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato describes three kinds of fear: The lowest is fear of punishment. This is not fear of G-d, but it might be useful for keeping oneself in line.

Fear of G-d comes in two sorts: fear of sinning -- not of the punishment, but of the sin itself, and awe of G-d's Grandeur. But when our sages speak of fear of G-d without qualification, the Ramchal tells us they are referring to fear of sin.

What does it mean to fear sin, rather than to fear punishment? In a healthy marriage, does a husband worry about what his wife will do to him? Or worried that he won't be able to do for her everything he is trying to?

Rabbi Avraham Elya Kaplan wrote in the title essay of Be'iqvos haYir'ah (in the Footprints of Fear):

…To what may yir’ah be likened? To the tremor of fear which a father feels when his beloved young son rides his shoulders as he dances with him and rejoices before him, taking care that he not fall off. Here there is joy that is incomparable, pleasure that is incomparable. And the fear tied up with them is pleasant too. It does not impede the freedom of dance…

Yir'ah is that difference between celebrating your daughter's wedding, and celebrating your neighbor's daughter's. It is because the event matters so much in your own life and that of someone you care about, it is because they are stepping off into the unknown, that the joy is all that much greater. Yir'ah feeds joy.

As the Torah says (and we say every morning), the Jews stood at the Red Sea as it split, looking at their dead oppressors, "And Israel saw the 'Great Hand' which Hashem worked in Egypt, and the nation felt yir'ah for Hashem, and they trusted in Hashem and in Moshe His servant. Then, Moshe and the Israelites would sing..."

True yir'ah is not the trembling that immobilizes. It's the realization of the import of what you are doing. (This "awareness of import" is why yir'ah refer to both fear of sin and awe confronting Hashem's grandeur.) Yir'as hacheit, fear of messing up because you want things to turn out right. More so, it is a fear of G-d, a fear of not disappointing one's Beloved.

You ask: Should we replace fear of G-d with love of G-d? If we didn't feel one, we wouldn't really be feeling either.

  • All the answers are great! This one is really powerful, shkoyach
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 21 at 17:11

Quick answer is given by the Bartenura in משנה אבות א ג

ויהי מורא שמים עליכם - אע"פ שאתה עובד מאהבה עבוד ג"כ מיראה.
שהעובד מאהבה זריז במצות עשה,
והעובד מיראה נזהר ממצות לא תעשה, ונמצאת דעבודתו שלימה. ‏

וכן אמרו חז"ל, עבוד מאהבה עבוד מיראה.
עבוד מאהבה, שאם באת לשנוא דע שאתה אוהב ואין אוהב שונא.
עבוד מיראה, שאם באת לבעוט דע שאתה ירא ואין ירא בועט:‏

You have to both fear and love Gcd.

Love: causes one to do the positive commandments properly.

Fear: causes one to be careful not to transgress negative commandments.

Love him: so that [if something happens that may cause you to hate], you will always love Him.

Fear him: so that if you're tempted to rebel, you won't, as you fear Him.

(That's as long as we say יראה is fear, whereas it's a higher level to be in awe of Gcd rather than simple fear [of punishement].)

  • You should translate the complete Bartinura. It's a beautiful sentiment. Jan 25, 2016 at 0:49

Both fear and love are necessary expressions in our relationship with Hashem, and we are commanded to do both. There are some who say that fear and love are two sides of the same coin, meaning that they are to be equally felt, since we are both His "sons" and his "people". Others say that the lower level is fear, while the higher and better expression is love.

Further reading:


Love of G-d and fear of G-d are not at odds with each other. The root of love is הב, which means to give. 'Fear' is 'יראה'. This is the concept of action or 'movement' like is found in Tehillim 76:9. This explanation of 'fear' is also found in the introduction to Sefer Reishit Chochmah by Rabbi Eliyahu de Vidas.

The concept of fear of G-d means putting into action, from a foundation of love of G-d, the will of G-d. This is the concept of actually doing the mitzvot.

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