Fear due to Honor - a Level for the Few
We have explained that there are five levels of yirah: fear of punishment, fear due to honor, fear due to Hashem's greatness, and fear due to sin. We have elaborated on the first level, fear of punishment.
The second level, fear due to honor, is somewhat similar to fear of punishment. Just as with fear of punishment, it is naturally difficult to fear gehinnom, because gehinnom is not sensed by the body but only by the soul, so it is with the honor in Gan Eden. That place is intangible and can only be perceived by the soul, not the body. Hence, to attain that state, one needs to activate the faculty of imagery.
There are some rare people who naturally have a very strong desire for honor, and it is easier for them to attain the fear due to honor even without the faculty of imagery, but with most people, the desire for honor is not so apparent, and so, they can only attain the level of fear due to the honor of Gan Eden if they use imagery. Since we have said that the faculty of imagery is weak with most people, in general, it may be said that one should not work too much with this kind of yirah. If one is able to, that is wonderful, but if one will need a lot time for it, it is preferable for him to first attain the simple fear of punishment, and then skip to fear due to perfection.
Certainly, there is some danger any time one skips a level, but since it is relatively difficult to attain that level, and it requires a significant investment of time, and sometimes, excessive involvement with honor causes more harm than good, we will skip to the next stage: fear due to perfection.
Awareness and Will Bring one to Fear Due to Perfection
"Fear due to perfection" means that a person desires and yearns to be perfect! What is perfection? The Ramchal has already taught in the first chapter of Mesillas Yesharim that "the true perfection is only attachment to Hashem, as David HaMelech said (Tehillim 73:28), ‘And closeness to Hashem is good for me' and ‘I have asked one thing from Hashem, that I do ask: to dwell in the house of Hashem my entire life' (ibid. 27:4) because only that is good. Anything else considered good by people is only vanity and deceptive emptiness."
If so, there must first be the awareness that perfection is attachment to Hashem. Once there is that awareness, there must be a ratzon (will) for that perfection, and when there is a true ratzon, one fears lest the ratzon not be satisfied.
What is this like? A person is invited to a wedding, and he wants to be there for the ceremony, which is called for 7 PM. There is a bus that leaves at 6, and he knows that if he catches it, he will arrive on time for the ceremony. He arrives near the bus stop, and sees the bus approaching while he is still far from the stop. Now, he fears that he might not catch the bus. The more he wants to be at that wedding, the stronger is his fear of missing the bus. But the less he cares about being there, the less troubled will he be about missing the bus and the ceremony.
Here, too, the stronger and more manifest one's ratzon for closeness to Hashem is, the more will he fear a sin, since it prevents closeness to the Creator. But the more concealed that ratzon is (because the knowledge is only in the mind), the weaker is the fear that his ratzon might not be fulfilled.
There is a big difference between knowing something in the mind and having an open ratzon for it. Really, anyone who learns the words of the Ramchal fully believes that a person's purpose is to be close to the Creator. Each person knows this. The question is: how strong is one's ratzon for that which he knows? If all he has is information, he is not so attached to the concept, and he won't fear not achieving it.
There are many people who really know that it is very important to know the entire Talmud, and yet, they could be idle for five hours at a time. Even though it is obvious that they could learn a lot of Talmud in those five hours, that knowledge is removed from the ratzon, and so it does not lead to expression in the practical realm.
If the knowledge becomes one with the person, his desire and ultimate aspiration will be evident, and any obstacle to achieving it will be opposed with all his might.
Hence, there are three stages to achieving this yirah. The first stage is the clear knowledge in the mind that the purpose of a person in his world is to be close to the Creator, then, the knowledge must be translated into a consistently intensifying ratzon, and the third stage is a clear awareness that sin contradicts his ratzon for closeness to Hashem.
It is possible for a person to want closeness to Hashem, but hardly feel that sins prevent this. If when a person would speak lashon hara (gossip), he would feel that he is destroying his spiritual sensitivity, the yirah would be very strong. But we are tested in this world by sensing that "the way of the wicked is successful" when we are tempted by a sin. And the sense is not only that one can attain material success, but one doesn't even sense that when sinning, he disconnects himself from Hashem.
Therefore, even if a person has a clear awareness that the goal is closeness to Hashem, and he has a strong ratzon to get close, there is no guarantee that the knowledge and ratzon will generate any fear of sin. He feels a ratzon to become close to the Creator, but he doesn't sense any contradiction between that ratzon and a sin. He doesn't sense that a sin will disrupt his desire for closeness to the Creator.
Hence, one must know and internalize two facts: one must know that the purpose of life is to become close to the Creator, and also develop a ratzon for it; one must also know that sin opposes that ratzon and blocks closeness to Hashem, and internalize that fact.
Each of these points requires a long period of work. We will attempt to briefly deal with these issues to the extent possible.
The Work with the Ratzon Differs from Person to Person
We will start with a simple point: A person knows that his purpose is to be close to his Creator. The question is: how does this become his daily and hourly feeling?
If this is not achieved, the whole process of avodas Hashem is lacking. The Chazon Ish has already written that "one hour of learning with exertion is better than many hours of lazy study." That is to say, if there is strong ratzon, the result will be lasting, but if the ratzon is weak and flimsy, there is almost no hope for anything true to come from it. Very profound effort is needed in order to build true ratzon!
Although here, in the discussion of yirah, we are bringing up the issue of ratzon, the truth is that it is necessary even prior to this level. Each person is unique: One person has no natural ratzon to attain emunah, and he must arouse a ratzon for it. Another has no natural ratzon to daven (pray), because he doesn't feel that tefillah is essential for life, and he must arouse that ratzon.
Each person is born with a certain degree of ratzon, and it differs depending on the issue. One person will naturally want to perform acts of kindness. Another will want to learn Torah, but it will be hard for him to do acts of kindness. A third will want both, but it will hard for him to daven.
Therefore, whatever one is working on first requires an arousal of ratzon, so he will truly want to work on that matter.
The Methods for Awakening a Strong Inner Ratzon
The most inclusive and fundamental point, the goal of all, is for a person to have a true ratzon to become close to the Creator!
Sometimes, a person wants to become close to the Creator, but the ratzon is not strong enough. One must want that itself: that his ratzon for closeness to Hashem will be strong and deep!
Even though each person knows this in his mind, in order to apply it as a way of avodah, there must be a true ratzon. If the person wants to build for himself a ratzon, he must still be lacking the ratzon, and without it, it is hard for him to want to want.
This is one of the real difficulties in our service of Hashem. Most people do not advance past their spot in avodah because they lack a true ratzon to get closer to Hashem. Each one, according to his level, has some kind of ratzon, but everyone without exception, even those on a high level, have a ratzon that stops at a certain level. They certainly want more, but there is no strong evident ratzon for more.
This issue applies to everyone, but the question is: how much does it affect the person and on what level? But the inner point is identical to all: a person must constantly intensify his ratzon.
How do we arouse the ratzon? There is a method mentioned in the Holy Zohar (3:168a): "If the body is not enlightened by the soul, it must be beaten, so that the soul can give it light and the two can unite." That is to say, it is achieved through suffering and affliction one brings upon himself. However, not everyone is capable of this, and in this generation, most people cannot handle difficult things; they like pleasant things. Thus, we will not focus on this so much; we will just discuss it in few words. The "beating" is achieved either through self-affliction, such as fasting, or through self-criticism.
In fact, there were tzaddikim who were able to seclude themselves and scream at themselves over this very point: "How low I am that I do not really want to be close to the Creator, etc." And so, they would speak many words from the depth of their heart.
But this has two dangers: First, one might be screaming from his mind, without real feeling. Second, tzaddikim are able to be bitter for a while and then switch to joy, but many people might fall into constant bitterness, which will damage their avodah, because without joy, there is nothing!
Therefore, one should only do this if he feels that he can be bitter for a time and then serve Hashem with pleasure and joy, but many people are made in a way that if they start yelling at themselves and placing severe demands on themselves, they will get depressed and will despair, and will lose some of their vitality. If this way will bring someone there, he may not enter!
We will try to focus on an opposite approach. A person should devote an hour, and just pray for one thing: that he will truly want!
Even though he senses that saying that he wants to want is not being said with enough ratzon, that may be true, but one must know that it is impossible that he doesn't want at all. The soul surely wants, and even openly, there must be some small spark of true ratzon. Then what is the problem? This spark, in relation to the veils that conceal it, seems nullified. Yet one must be stubborn and not give up, and day after day ask Hashem the same request: "Master of the World, I want to want to be close to You! This is not yet a request for closeness itself, but for the ratzon to be close to the Creator. Once the ratzon is attained, there will be a place for asking for the closeness itself.
A person can spend a very long time working on this aspect. If one does not have a lot of patience, he will give up, but that itself is because he does not have enough ratzon!
If a person does not have enough ratzon to stubbornly pursue ratzon, and he is not able to scold himself about it (as the Tania states that one should be bitter about this very fact that he doesn't want to want), he should go to tzaddikim and listen to them and their rebukes daily, until something in him will crack open.
In other words, if he cannot accomplish this on his own, either through bitterness, or through stubbornness, he needs an outer force to arouse him, namely, people who speak words of truth, and the words that emanate from their hearts will enter his heart. He must pay attention well to their words again and again, and fulfill "I have held fast and will not let go," until something budges inside him!
But he must know that this is only the beginning of the path. One cannot conclude his life's work with listening to other people. This is only meant to arouse the inner ratzon, so that one can progress further.
We have presented three ways to arouse ratzon in a person.
The Inner Essence of Ratzon is Pleasure
As we said, one who can be bitter without losing the joy is fortunate, because this bitterness can be used to break the heart of stone that does not want closeness to Hashem. The very bitterness over the lack of ratzon for closeness to Hashem will improve him a great deal!
But in addition, even such a person may not suffice with bitterness, and he must focus also on the positive, by praying to Hashem to draw him close, employing "the left hand pushes away and the right hand pulls close." Since he already has the "left hand pushing away," he must continue with the power of the "right hand pulling close." The request from Hashem to want to be close to Him is itself an essential element meant for each person!
It seems that the point of ratzon is what prevents a person from advancing in the various aspects of avodah.
A person might start working on his tefillah. He will learn the words of Chazal, and see their truth, but it all remains information, without any strong ratzon. He tries for a week or two, and does not succeed! He has all sorts of excuses, but the real problem is that he started working before he really wanted it. It is a great privilege for a person if his ratzon is alive, burning, and strong.
Here is a simple example: There were great tzaddikim who did not waste a minute of their time. They were always learning Torah, serving Hashem, or doing acts of kindness. Even while speaking with other people, there was always a clear calculation of how much time to speak, how much gratitude to express to people, what should be done so as to help a person forget his troubles, and so on.
A person will stand at the side and be amazed: How can a person live under such pressure, with each moment being calculated? Such a life of constant pressure and utilizing each moment seems superhuman and impossible!
What is the answer? There is depth in this matter, but first, we must consider the basic point.
This is the explanation: If someone takes a person and holds his nose and mouth shut, he will try with all his might each second to open them. If he succeeds for a moment, he will take a breath, and then continue in his struggle without pause. If a person feels that his very life depends on a certain action, he has no difficulty with doing it each moment. The less vital it is, the harder it is to do each moment. The more vital it is, the easier and more possible it becomes.
If something does not seem vital, it is work, but if his life depends on it, the action is a pleasure and he has a real desire to do it. A person delights in something that he wants to connect to.
So that a person can live with this spiritual pressure, he needs ratzon! The sefarim hakedoshim write that true ratzon and pleasure are one: "inside ratzon, there is pleasure." Once a person has attained the pleasure, he no longer needs a ratzon for work, but for the pleasure he will attain. Once a person has delighted in Hashem through Torah and mitzvos, he pursues them because of the inner delight he gains from them.
The problem is that as long as a person has not attained pleasure, he tries to build ratzon without pleasure. That is the source of the difficulty! It is very hard to maintain a strong ratzon when there is no pleasure. Why?
As long as a person does not want something with all his might, he doesn't feel his lack, and he will take it easy. But if he wants it, connects to it, and delights in it, he feels each moment a lack and a need to fill it.
The intermediate stage of ratzon without pleasure is called in the sefarim hakedoshim "the slingshot in this world." Everyone who wants to serve Hashem must undergo the "slingshot." Either he will suffer with it in this world, or if not, chas veshalom, he will suffer with it in the next world. But every person must undergo this suffering of unfulfilled ratzon.
If one is not worthy, he will first suffer this in material issues. He will want money, gold, apartments, and other desires that he cannot satisfy. But these desires might not be strong. There must be a strong, real desire that is not satisfied!
The intensification of the ratzon without satisfaction strengthens the lack, and consequently, the pain. If one knows that this unfulfilled ratzon is Hashem's will, that will ease things a little, but in general, when one is working on his ratzon, it is hard to appreciate that such is the will of Hashem.
The building of this structure of ratzon is the true entry into the world of avodas Hashem. As long as there is no real ratzon, there is nothing to really push a person in his service of Hashem, and he cannot succeed.
When the ratzon comes with pleasure, it is as if one is already in the world of reward, referred to by Chazal as "you will see your world in your life." When a person has the merit, he desires each moment to cleave to Hashem and to learn Torah. The problem people have is that they often have a superficial desire to become close to the Creator, but they have no inner desire. They would like an inner desire, but they still feel no fulfillment, so it is easier to abandon their desire than to maintain an unfulfilled desire.
These are very fundamental points, and this is an avodah needed by everyone who seeks the truth. One must know that no one goes through this world without suffering. Happy is he whose suffering comes from the Torah: "Happy is the man who is afflicted by Hashem, and You teach him from Your Torah" (Tehillim 94:12). Happy is the man who knows that he must receive his suffering from his service of Hashem.
Each person has come into this world with a quota of suffering. One who understands that he cannot escape suffering prefers to willfully accept suffering by working to become close to Hashem without receiving satisfaction, rather than suffering in some other manner. When one does not understand this, he tries to escape this kind of suffering, and wants to live in peace: "Yaakov wanted to live in peace, and so the agony over Yosef jumped upon him."
A person must persist for a long time in building a structure of ratzon even though it will have no fulfillment. Only when he reaches a certain degree of ratzon, as Avraham Avinu cried, "the waters are about to kill me!" Hashem will reveal the true light, so that he will feel Him. But as long as the ratzon is not strong and with the person each moment, he will not have the privilege for the light of Hashem to truly rest on him.
May Hashem help us to attain a true ratzon to be close to Him, and through it, find satisfaction. Amen.