75 words for 75 years of Israel – Yirah/Awe

75 words for 75 years of Israel – Yirah/Awe

In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible!

Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available now!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.

Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!





“Abraham said: ‘I thought, surely there is no awe of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’” (Genesis 20:11)

ויאמר אברהם כי אמרתי רק אין יראת אלהים במקום הזה והרגוני על דבר אשתי.

“The beginning of wisdom is awe of God; all who practice it gain sound understanding. Praise of Him is everlasting.” (Psalms 111:10)

ראשית חכמה יראת יהוה שכל טוב לכל עשיהם תהלתו עמדת לעד.

Yirah, Hebrew for “awe,” is most commonly used in the synonymous phrases yirat Hashem and yirat shamayim, meaning “awe of God.” Awe is the foundation of serving God and connotes a powerful feeling of God’s presence in one’s life.

The word yirah is connected to the Hebrew word lirot, “to see.” As we open our eyes and look at the world around us, we bear witness to God’s majesty in nature as well as His involvement in all of the great events and mundane aspects of our world. When we open our eyes to truly see, we are inspired with awe, and ultimately love, for God.

Awe of God is essential to being a good person and also forms the basis of building a good society. That is why the Bible often adds the phrase “and you shall have awe of your God” after many commandments, for it is awe that leads one to follow God’s righteous ways. This also explains why Abraham lied to Abimelech about Sarah being his sister, as he said, “surely there is no awe of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife” (Genesis 20:11).

The sages teach that without awe, one cannot acquire wisdom. In the words of King David, “The beginning of wisdom is awe of God” (Psalms 111:10). Wisdom without awe of God is soulless knowledge. Only when one’s understanding is rooted in awe of God does knowledge take on a higher purpose and lead a person to a more holy life.

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