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Psalm 27: Proper & Improper Fear

“To David: God is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? God is my life’s strength, whom shall I dread?” It is human nature to fear a powerful and wealthy person who is wicked, more than we fear a weak or poor person who is righteous and wise. The Sages (Pesachim 22a) insist that it should be the opposite: “You shall fear God your Lord”, has an “extra word – ‘et’ – to add that we must fear a Talmid Chacham – someone who is wise. “Beware of the fire of the wise that you are not burned”, (Avot 2:10) is another indication that the Sages understood that we should fear the wise more than the powerful.

Isaiah (Chapter 51:12-14) mocks those who fear the wrong people: “I, only I, am He Who comforts you. Who are you that you should be afraid of mortal humans and of men who will be made as grass? You have forgotten God, your Maker, Who spread out the heavens and set the foundations of the earth, and you are terrified continually, all day long, because of the oppressor’s fury when he prepares to destroy. But where is the oppressor’s fury? The wanderer will soon be released, and will not die in the pit, nor will his bread be lacking.”

One who fears for the wrong reasons will forget God, his maker.  “Israel deserved to be destroyed by Haman because they feared the Persians and Babylonians.” (Bereishit Rabbah 76:1)

Perhaps, King David is not saying that he does not fear or dread anyone or thing other than God: David is actually describing how God’s light teaches him whom to fear for the correct reasons. When David experiences God as his life’s strength, he remembers whom to dread, and whom not.

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are described as the Days of Awe; there is an element of fear and awe as we are faced with judgment. We must access God’s light and the strength God gives us so that we use the fear and awe properly.

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