Rosh Chodesh: Shabbat Mevarchim I
“A life in which there is fear of heaven and fear of sin.” Why do we ask for both? Does not fear of sin usually come before fear of heaven? The latter is considered the higher-level. In fact, we usually assume that one who has achieved fear of heaven has long ago achieved fear of sin.
Perhaps we can understand this after examining the words of Rabbeinu Yonah in The Gates of Repentance (Third Gate #7): Our sages of blessed memory have also said, “For your love is better than wine (Song of Songs 1:2).” The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 35a) teaches, “The words of the Sages are more beloved than the wine of Torah.” This too, must be explained.
It should be realized that the fear of God is the foundation of the Mitzvot, as it is said, “And now, Israel, what does God, your Lord, require of you, but to fear God, your Lord (Deuteronomy 10:12).” And this fear causes God’s creations to be found acceptable to Him, as it is said, “God takes pleasure in those who fear Him (Psalms 147:11).”
The ordinances and fences of the sages are a basis in the direction of this fear. A fence and a distance is established lest a man’s hand reached into the area of what is prohibited by the Torah, as the owner of the field, because of the land’s dearness to him, puts a fence around it for fear that others may enter it and make it a place for “the sending forth of oxen and the treading of sheep.” The fences and restrictions of the Sages are among the essentials of fear. The observance of the mitzvot will not nurture fear as will guarding these fences so that one does not come to be careless.
We can understand that, “Fear of Heaven,” refers to the general idea of observing the mitzvot, while, “Fear of Sin,” refers to guarding the fences so that one will not come to sin.
The Bartenura (Avot 2:8) teaches that there is a type of Fear of Sin that is actually higher than Fear of Heaven, when it is an expression of the Fear of Heaven that motivates the person to erect barriers and fences to protect his relationship with God and keep his distance from sin.
It is this type of Fear of Sin, the one that develops from Fear of Heaven, for which we pray for the coming month and all that follow.