One of the earmarks of present-day society is the myriad fears which plague modern man. Young children learn to be afraid of failing tests, losing a ball game or coming in second in a swim meet. They may be afraid of the local bully or of their mother discovering the rip in their new trousers.
In another decade or two, they’ll be part of the adult society that has bigger worries. Will they keep their job? Will they make it through the year without being in the red? Will they be able to meet all the payments on their new home/car/recreation vehicle/life insurance/withholding tax and so forth?
Anyone in business for himself has an additional worry list to keep him awake at night. Will the competition get the contract? Will they find out about our new product and get there first? Is that new worker really so good, or is he a plant from the competition?
What if the bottom falls out of the market? What is going to happen in the Middle East, and how will it affect the business?
There seems to be no end to the concerns that harass modern man, and every newscast adds to the list. And, all this is without considering the state of one’s heart, cholesterol levels, over-weight, and a multitude of bacteria and viruses that are just lying in wait for the unsuspecting, law-abiding citizen.
We haven’t even started on the environment, with its global warming and warnings that accost us every time we glance at the headlines.
In short, there is so much to be afraid of that it’s a wonder we get out of bed in the morning.
As we approach the New Year, and prepare our annual wish list of the improvements we’d like to see implemented during the next twelve months, surely one factor we’d like to eliminate is fear.
Indeed, we find that one of the central themes of the prayers our Sages formulated for Rosh Hashanah is fear. But the surprise is that we ask G-d not to eliminate fear, but to instill it in the hearts of every one of His creatures.
How can that be? What is the point? If on some remote point of our globe there remains one fortunate human being who is not plagued by a plethora of fears, why do we now come forward and implore our Creator to infuse his heart with trembling so that he, too, will be in trepidation day and night?
Why should this be so? Is our ambition in life to become a society of fear? Is this the highest goal to which man can aspire? Is this all that mankind is lacking in this day of global terrorism, war, and strife?
A moment’s reflection on the state of affairs nowadays will show us that this is not such a strange request after all.
Today, there is no force on the face of the globe that if strong enough, intimidating enough, to free mankind from the cruel stranglehold of crime and terrorism. The only hope for the human race in our present state of affairs is a fear and awe of a Supreme Power. Only fear of Heavenly retribution for wrongdoing, whether petty theft or global terrorism, can be powerful enough to serve as a universal deterrent to crime.
Were all mankind imbued with fear of retribution from Heaven, all our fears would disappear. No one would dare to stretch forth a hand against the will of the Creator. There would be no danger of theft or crime, and certainly not of terrorism and global war. This is man’s only hope, and G-d has promised us that the day will come when this hope will be realized.
It is this utopian, universal state of awe of man’s Creator which we pray for on Rosh Hashanah:
And then, O G-d,… impose Your awe upon all Your works, and Your dread over all that You have created, so that all Your works may fear You, and all Your creatures will bow down before You, and they may all form one single band to do Your will with all their heart…
— From the Amidah prayer of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
From this viewpoint, the content of the prayers for the High Holy Days is clear and to the point. We are pleading not for a new treaty or peace pact, nor even for a new, improved version of NATO or the U.N. powerful enough to calm on the stormy seas of international politics.
Rather, what we pray for on Rosh Hashanah is a total revamping of man’s inner self. No longer will man need to police his fellow man or curb his desire for selfish gain. An enhanced awareness of G-d’s majesty and power, will curb man’s baser nature and instill within him an overwhelming desire to serve Him faithfully.
This was the situation at the time that man was first created. Adam and Eve, as first created and placed in the Garden of Eden, sought only to serve their Creator.
It is this fear – or awe – of the Creator which is the only solution to man’s dilemma of how to eliminate fear altogether. It is a “fear to end all fears”, one which will usher in the happiest era man has ever known.