The Powers of the Soul to Experience God
Introduction: The Internal Dimension
Yirah is the spiritual state associated with the sefirah of gevurah. In contrast to the heart’s initial, innate desire to give, deriving from ahavah, yirah expresses one’s deeply felt concern and fear lest one’s gift fall into the hands of an unworthy recipient who may actually misuse it destructively.
Yirah evokes gevurah, the might necessary to reject and even fight against negative and destructive forces.
The two powers of ahavah and yirah are intended to complement one another and act as a pair, as the two hands of the body in their common effort to construct or as the two wings of a bird in their flight upward. In a more general sense, yirah is understood to represent one’s sensitivity to the presence of another. Sensitivity gives rise to consideration of the other’s feelings and respect for him (as in the idiom yirat hakavod). While ahavah motivates attraction and union, yirah stands in awe from afar.
In relation to God, there are many levels of yirah: yirat haromemut (awe in the presence of infinite Divine exaltedness), yirat hamalchut (awe in the presence of Divine kingship), and yirat haonesh (fear of punishment). This last level of yirah is not exclusively “pure” in its motivation (for it does not picture God directly as the object of one’s yirah), but rather derives from thekelipat nogah (translucent shell) of one’s soul experience, involving a mixture of good (for it precludes sinning) and evil (for it shadows one’s consciousness with thoughts of bad consequences).
|Yirat haromemut||Awe in the presence of
infinite Divine exaltedness
|Yirat hamalchut||Awe in the presence of
|Yirat haonesh||Fear of punishment|