Happiness is both love and respect

There is much depth of meaning in happiness that we have to understand, and our book continued by repeating the same ideas only on a deeper level. In order to fully grasp the meaning of (a) happiness with one’s portion in life and (b) happiness with one’s obligations to God as a means of connecting to God, we have to understand a different concept first. It says in the kabbalistic work of the Zohar that love and fear of God are like two wings that carry us up, to transcend above a limiting existence.

Fear of God has gotten very bad rap partly because people confuse it with the concept of neurotic fear and partly because modern man has a problem with the idea of limitations. I don’t have a better translation for yira than fear of God, or to be God-fearing. In any case this is the language everyone uses. Awe and reverence don’t quite capture it either. The word that comes closest, at least for the purpose of clarifying what we’re talking about here, is respect.

By the end of our study yesterday (which will take several posts to recount here) I felt that at last I had a clear conception that I could put into a few number of words. To fear God is to do what I must do; to love God is to do what I want to do. There is more meaning that needs to be squeezed out of this concept but bear with me in the meantime.

If we take only the example of “b” mentioned above, happiness with one’s obligations to God, we will notice that it consists of two parts, not one as we had thought at first. Fulfilling a religious obligation because this is something I must do is an expression of fear of God. Being happy about what I’m doing when I fulfill the obligation is an expression of love of God.

The same is true in our relationships with other people. If I do something out of my sense of responsibility or out of deference to another person’s needs or my recognition of boundaries this is a sign of respect. I can do that without any enthusiasm. If, in addition to just doing it I also have great motivation and enthusiasm and joy, this is a sign of love.

It is not possible to act out of love if we don’t have the movement of respect that makes space for the other (or Other) and it is not possible to make space for the other if we don’t also have love. Of course it is possible to defer to the other and not have love but the respect won’t exactly be respect if our heart is not in it and it will turn into empty, rote, lifeless actions. It is also possible to only do what we want to do and never defer to the other, but then we will only be self-serving. Obviously there is a need for both yirah and love. Only an attitude that encompasses both these things yields happiness.

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