Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Fear and Love, Truth and Peace


The upcoming Yomim Noraim, Days of Awe, evoke fear of Hashem and His judgment. Rosh Hashana is the day that every person passes before Hashem individually (Rosh Hashana 18a). The dramatic Unesaneh Tokef, recited with great intensity and devotion, speaks of fear and trembling in the face of the Divine verdict of life and death. This universal theme is the central motif of the "sanctity of the day" on Rosh Hashana: Hashem is the King of the entire world, and all will recognize His sovereignty when He will appear with the splendor of His strength. The shofar awakens us to teshuvah, primarily out of fear of Hashem and His judgment (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuva 3:4).

Yom Kippur emphasizes the need for complete atonement. Just as a mikve purifies the impure, so Hashem purifies Am Yisrael (Yoma 85b). Just as a mikve requires total immersion, Yom Kippur requires total teshuva. Teshuva out of fear is incomplete, a step towards Hashem, and only mitigates one's sins. Yom Kippur is a day of total teshuva, out of love, that converts sins into merits and reaches all the way to Hashem (Yoma 86a-b [1]). Heartfelt confession, conspicuously absent on Rosh Hashana, is the central theme of Yom Kippur. It reflects a sincere recognition of one's mistakes, recited out of love of Hashem and a resolve to improve, which is a meritorious result of the sins.

While Rosh Hashana is the universal day of judgment, Yom Kippur is a special gift to Am Yisrael. "You gave us with love this Day of Atonement so that we can return to You wholeheartedly" (Ne'ilah). "In Your abundant mercy, You have given us this fast day of atonement" (Musaf). Hashem's love of Am Yisrael in granting us Yom Kippur is reflected by our complete teshuva out of love.


Fear is praiseworthy only with respect to Hashem. Fear of Hashem should remove fear of man (Berachos 60a; Rabbeinu Bechaye, Introduction to Ki Sisa; Al Hateshuva p. 140-141). Love, on the other hand, is praiseworthy with respect to man, as well. A sincere Torah scholar is praised as one who loves Hashem and who loves His creatures (beriyos) (Avos 6:1).

On Rosh Hashana, the day of fear, we, as individuals, beseech Hashem for a good year and declare His kingship. On Yom Kippur, the day of love, we add the dimension of interpersonal forgiveness and closeness. It is a day of no jealousy, hatred or competition (Musaf), when even sinners pray with us (Kol Nidrei) and fast with us (Kerisos 6b).

Rosh Hashana is a day of truth, as we end its central beracha, "purify our hearts to serve You in truth, for You are the Lord of truth and Your word is true." Yom Kippur is a day of peace, as we make amends for our misdeeds and seek and grant forgiveness to foster peace with others.

On every holiday, we implore "bring us to Yerushalayim in eternal joy." On the Yomim Noraim, we add a prayer for "joy in Your city" and for Hashem's rule in "Yerushalayim Your holy city." On Rosh Hashana, we cite the prophecy that all will return from exile and "will bow to Hashem on the holy mountain in Yerushalayim" and on Yom Kippur we recall and anticipate the service of the Kohen Gadol in the Beis Hamikdash in Yerushalayim.

How and when will Yerushalayim be rebuilt? Hashem promises to convert fasts into feasts of joy and gladness, when the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt, if only we love truth and peace (Zechariah 8:19, R.H. 18b, see Rabbeinu Chananel). The very themes of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur hold the key to our ultimate redemption.


Indeed, the very name Yerushalayim reflects this duality. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 56:16) teaches that Shem called the city "Shalem" (Bereishis 14:18, see Rashi) and Avraham called it "Yireh." Hashem combined both names and called the city Yerushalayim.

The Meshech Chochma (22:14) explains that Shem saw that theft filled the world (6:11) and led to its destruction (6:13). Therefore, he devoted himself to improving interpersonal behavior. As such, he called his capital Shalem to emphasize character perfection and the idea that all of mankind comprise one organic whole, each person influencing and being influenced by one another.

Avraham, on the other hand, fought to teach mankind that Hashem is the Master of the world, a basic fact that had been forgotten (Rambam Hilchos Avodah Zara 1:1-3). To emphasize this message, he called his capital, the site of the akeidah which demonstrated his fear of Hashem (22:12), "Hashem will see...and on the mountain Hashem will be seen" (22:14).

Rosh Hashana, on which we read of the akeidah, and Yom Kippur, when we must appease others, improving our interpersonal behavior to achieve atonement (Yoma 85b), follow immediately the seven weeks of consolation. In the seven haftoras of consolation, Yeshaya describes our glorious future.

"All your children will be students of Hashem and abundant will be your children's peace" (54:13). The two aspects of Yerushalayim, recognizing Hashem and achieving peace, will lead to its redemption.

In the previous pasuk (54:12), Hashem promises to rebuild Yerushalayim with a stone called "kadchhod." The Gemara (Bava Basra 75a) interprets that the angels (see Netzach Yisrael 51) or the scholars (see Shev Denechemta) debated if the stones should be shoham or yashfeh. Hashem said to them, "Let it be both" (kedein ukedein). Hence the word "kadchod," representing both stones.

The Meshech Chochma (Shemos 28:9) notes that shoham stones adorned the efod. This garment of the Kohen Gadol atones for idolatry (Zevachim 88b). The shoham represents its opposite, knowledge and fear of Hashem.

Yashfeh was the final stone of the choshen (28:20). The choshen mishpat (28:15), as its name implies, represents justice, interpersonal propriety. Yerushalayim will be rebuilt when both the themes of its name will be fulfilled. The two stones, shoham of the efod and yashfeh of the choshen, parallel Yireh and Shalem, truth and peace, respectively. When we love and pursue both, Hashem will rebuild Yerushalayim with both stones. All of Am Yisrael will be students of Hashem, bein adam lamakom, and will be blessed with abundant peace, bein adam lachaveiro.

The Yefe To'ar asks, why does Yireh precede Shalem? Chronologically, Shem preceded Avraham, so Shalem should precede Yireh. He answers that Avraham was a greater tzaddik, so his name, Yireh, takes precedence.

Alternatively, Yireh precedes Shalem conceptually. First we must establish our faith in Hashem and our adherence to the Torah's religious principles and observances. Only then can we develop appropriate interpersonal relationships, guided, and limited, by yiras Shamayim. Fear must precede love, truth must precede peace. Yireh must precede Shalem, even as Rosh Hashana must precede Yom Kippur.

May our teshuva, out of fear and love, lead to a year of truth and peace, and to the rebuilding of Yerushalayim.

[1] See Teshuva and Tefillah: Two Paths to Hashem; see also footnote 1 to Reuven's Teshuva: A Model for Life-Long Growth; see also "One Step At a Time" in the forthcoming Mitoch Haohel (Yeshiva University Press, Tishrei 5772)

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