“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure” -Nelson Mandela
This unforgettable quote touches the deepest part of my soul because I am certain that Mandela is referring to the truly awesome human potential to change the world for the good.
We live in a world where almost everything is ‘awesome’! The word ‘awesome’ is much overused and has become almost meaningless. We use ‘awesome’ everyday to describe regular mundane things like a sandwich or the weather.
Traditionally, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are referred to as the “Yamim Nora’im”; the great days of ‘Awe’. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we read the famous ‘Unetaneh tokef’ prayer which begins “And let us now relate the power of this days’ holiness; for it is terribly awesome and frightening ”; and we are required as a constant mitzvah to have “Yirat Shamayim” – ‘fear of Heaven’. But these English words “great and fearful” “fear of Heaven” inadequately reflect the true power and deep meaning of the hebrew words they translate. The Webster dictionary defines ‘awesome’ as ‘so impressive or overwhelming as to inspire a strong feeling of admiration or fear. It describes something so majestic and sublime that it inspires great respect and reverence. It is a truly powerful word!
What we really do know is that G-d is Awesome! Therefore his world which is full of the miraculous and divine is Awesome. We too are Awesome since each of our souls burns with a spark of His holiness and reflects His image.
The human potential, our power to do good, is ‘awesome’ in the truest sense of the word. It is this potential itself that generates fear! The greatness of our mission and destiny as a Jewish nation and, as unique individuals inspires the greatest awe imaginable. This may leave us feeling a little overwhelmed with the responsibility of our great task. Rosh Hashana inspires us towards Teshuva because of the great ‘awesomeness’ of being one of G-d’s holy creations in His world, with a sacred duty to best fulfil our potential!
When we realise that we each are an important component of G-d’s incredible world, we feel the great significance and infinite meaning of our lives. Nelson Mandela’s statement arouses this great human feeling. We are indeed powerful beyond measure, and that creates the deepest ‘fear’. This is the ‘fear’ and ‘awe’ we feel on Rosh Hashana and the days leading up to Yom Kippur.
And now Israel, what does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you? Only to stand in awe of Him, to walk in all His ways, to love Him and to serve Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul; to observe the commandments of Hashem and the decrees...for your own good. (Devarim 10:12-13)
Awe and Awareness:
If we take all that Torah teaches us about G-d – His greatness, His power, His majesty, His all-seeing eye, His unceasing activity in nature and human life – and impress it on our mind, our feelings and our imagination, we shall come close to what the Torah calls “Awe”. Yirat Shamayim, that central mitzvah in Jewish life, does not mean merely fear of what will happen to us if we do such-and-such a thing. It means to be aware of G-d’s ever-present nearness; to realise ones responsibilities as a human being and a Jew, and to be grateful for the confidence implied by ones being entrusted with furthering G-d’s sublime purpose in the world. If we have a vivid enough conception of even one aspect of G-d’s greatness and carry it about with us always, we shall be unable to sin. (Extract from “Masterplan” by Aryeh Carmell)
I wish you all a Kesiva ve Chasima Tova. May our ‘awesome’ South African community merit a sweet and wonderfully good new year, filled with Torah and mitzvos, and all of G-d’s precious blessings. Good Yom Tov!