In this week's Torah portion, Moshe Rabbeinu said to our nation, during his final national address, " ועתה ישראל מה ה' אלקיך שואל מעמך כי אם ליראה את ה' אלקיך " And now, Israel, what does HaShem your G-d ask from you more than to fear Him...(Devarim 10:12). This is, of course, a major undertaking; as Shlomoh HaMelech wrote, "' אם תבקשנה ככסף וכמטמונים תחפשנה אז תבין יראת ה " If you beseech it as if it is silver and if, like treasures, you search it, then you will comprehend the fear of G-d (Mishlei 2:4-5). It emerges from these words of Shlomo HaMelech that the quest to achieve the fear of G-d is a lifetime's work. This is confirmed by the words of the prophet Yonah when he was found to be the cause of the storm that threatened the lives of those on the Nineveh-bound ship. When the crewmembers on Yonah's ship interrogated him, asking who he was and what was his occupation, he answered, עברי אנכי ואת ה' אלקי השמים אני ירא" " I am a Jew and I fear HaShem, the G-d of the Heavens (Yonah 1:9). Yonah responded that his occupation is that he "fears G-d". How did Yonah answer their question about his occupation by answering his religion? Although this sounds foreign to many of us, bringing G-d into one's life and feeling His Presence tangibly was the occupation and identity of many Jews for thousands of years.
Fearing G-d has many levels. The Ben Ish Chai conveys the following idea of one of the highest levels, indicating how far the rational fear of G-d can elevate one, directly influencing one's behavior and imbuing within a person an extremely high degree of the emotion of fear. He starts by drawing on the following observation.
We call the fear of G-d in Hebrew יראת שמים – literally the fear of Heaven. Isn't Heaven the place where G-d dwells? Would it not be then more precise to describe fear of Him as יראת השם – the fear of His name?
The answer the Ben Ish Chai gives is that the word שמים Heaven, according to one explanation, is a combination of the words אש ומים – fire and water. Our Rabbis explain that Heaven was created with fire and water – usually two extreme opponents. Normally, when combined, fire evaporates water and water extinguishes fire. Nonetheless, out of fear of their Creator, these two elements bond, defy their inherent nature, and resist their opposing laws of existence in order to coexist and fulfill G-d's will. The Ben Ish Chai expounds that this is the very reason why we refer to "fear of G-d" as "fear of Heaven". It is not only describing the object of the fear per se but rather a degree of fear. The fear emotion on this degree is so strong and real that all values, instincts and interests melt in its presence. This, of course, is close to an ultimate degree of fear that is not easily attainable.
Many interpret "G-d fearing" as referring to a person who will act no less righteously alone than when in front of others. This is also a very difficult level of Fear of G-d to attain. One may perceive another's efforts to be in a position where he is not alone as often as possible, saving himself from being tempted to sin, as a level of fearing G-d that is praiseworthy. This is definitely a more attainable level of Fear of G-d. The responsibility each Jew is given is to always look for the next level where fear of G-d can be intensified as a new goal and strive for it.