The Love of God and the Fear of God in the thought of the Maharal of Prague JOSEPH ELKOUBY
The concepts of the Love of God and the Fear of God are recorded in the Bible as positive precepts. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your might’ (Deuteronomy 6:5) and ‘The Lord your God shall you fear’ (Deuteronomy 6:13). These two concepts have at all times constituted an essential doctrine of Judaism, in all its currents of thought. There is, moreover, no Jewish thinker who has not placed these two themes at the centre of his concerns. They form the cornerstone of mediaeval Jewish thought. The Maharal of Prague devoted to the examination of these two concepts
two Paths, or Netivot, in his work dealing with the system of Jewish ethics, Netivot Olam (Eternal Paths). An analysis of the concepts treated within this ﬁnely structured work reveals that the Love of God and the Fear of God constitute the central axis. Indeed, for the Maharal, these two concepts are multifaceted in their ramiﬁcations. If, on the one hand, Love relates to the problems regarding evil, suﬀering, martyrdom and the chosenness of Israel, Fear relates to those regarding freedom, the evil inclination and the ultimate purpose of man and Creation. Love and Fear both involve moral conduct which is to be exemplary and the observance of religious precepts in a spirit of joy. Maharal often correlates both concepts with the idea of knowledge. More than just representing key ideas, these two values constitute the ﬁnal destination of the moral and religious journey, the perfection of man. Maharal deﬁnes as follows these two moral and religious values: through
the process of Love man attaches himself to God and returns to him to the point of dying.1 Rabbi Akiba is one of those men who embodied this love. Through the process of Fear man apprehends himself to be the eﬀect of God who is the Cause. In his lifetime, he is able to nullify himself before Him.2 Through the ﬁrst process, there is a complete attachment to God, or devekut, which can even culminate in death; through the second process, there is recognition by man of his freedom and of his relative condition – that is to say, a recognition of his being separated fromGod. ForMaharal, these two values are not mutually exclusive, for true fear, in this context, is the fear emanating from Love: someone who really loves somebody makes eﬀorts to avoid displeasing him as experienced by Abraham at the time of the sacriﬁce of Isaac.