Tapping into the Awe

I used to go away with my family to a Rosh Hoshana retreat where a few of the Rabbis would audibly cry during the “Who will live and who will die” portions of Unesanneh Tokef. Since I wasn’t able to reach their levels of fear, the crying made me a little uncomfortable. People have told me they also feel uncomfortable if the Baal Tefillah is davening from a crying/fear perspective.

Rabbi Bentzion Shafier of the Shmuz, in the first audio of his free 9 part series on the Lost Art of Teshuva, asks how is it that we are not in total fear, given that it is the Day of Judgement, which has extremely important implications. He answers that since we don’t see the immediate affect of the Rosh Hashanah Judgement, its implications do not affect us strongly emotionally. Please listen to the audio to hear Rabbi Shafier’s remedies for this situation.

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, starts us on a path to another remedy:

On Yom HaDin, there are two kinds of yirah: yiras haonesh (fear of punishment) and yiras haromemus (fear of Hashem’s greatness). The first kind of fear is possible even from a human king, but the second kind of yirah is only possible toward Hashem. On Rosh HaShanah, the kind of yirah to have – the way of Chassidus – is to have yiras haromemeus, fear of Hashem’s greatness; that Yom HaDin is not simply to fear punishment, but to be afraid of being distanced from closeness to Hashem. With Chassidus, the person isn’t being afraid of the judgment of Yom HaDin, but of the fear of not being close to Hashem.

The closeness to Hashem on Rosh HaShanah that everyone can grasp is that Hashem exists. All of Aseres Yemei Teshuvah are days of closeness to Hashem, but Rosh HaShanah is the climax of this closeness – because now, a person is standing before the King in judgment; not because the person is afraid of the judgment, but because a person feels such a closeness to Hashem during judgment.

This Rosh Hoshanah, when you hear the crying, let it remind of you of Hashem’s awesomeness. He is the King of the entire world and the fate of everything and everyone is in His hands. When we’re focused on how awesome Hashem is, we can yearn for, and be thankful, that we can have a relationship with Hashem, in all his awesomeness. We can use the lower fear, to tap into the higher awe, and take the next step towards increasing our connection and love for Hashem. It transforms the crying into a whole new light.