Thursday, September 22, 2011
Elul 23: Fear and Awe
The Hebrew term for the High Holidays is "haYamim haNora'im," which is frequently translated as "the Days of Awe." The word "nora," however, comes from the shoresh / root y-r-' (yod-resh-alef), meaning "fear." A better translation of haYamim haNora'im is "the Fearful Days."
There is a well-known teaching of the Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov that we sing in a popular song:
כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד
Kol ha'olam kulo gesher tzar me-od
והעיקר לא לפחד כלל
Veha'ikar lo lefahed kelal.
The whole world is a very narrow bridge
And the most important thing is not to fear at all
This metaphor obtains in particular during the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance that include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, since during this time we understand our lives as hanging in the balance. We are walking a narrow bridge and trying not to fall off.
But there is a reason that we call them the Days of Awe and not the Fearful Days (nor, for that matter, the Awful Days): because we know that (א) we are all walking this bridge together as one people, and (ב) that God is with us as we cross. We should be filled with awe, but not with fear.