"W hat does Hashem ask from you — only to fear Him.” (Devarim 10:12)

Rabi Chanina says (Berachos 33b): “Everything’s in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven.”

The gaon Reb Itzele Peterberger asks: What’s the Gemara adding here? Did we think otherwise? If fear of Heaven weren’t in the hands of man, there’d be no freedom of choice or place for reward and punishment! (Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, Meirosh Amanah) 

I have two phobias in life: acrophobia and arachnophobia. In layman’s terms, I’m scared of heights and petrified of spiders.

As a toddler, I was a late walker — probably the beginning of my fear of moving higher off the floor. I have distinct memories of standing petrified at the top of slides and begging not to go on cable cars on a family trip.

I’m lucky I’m short, so this doesn’t haunt me as an adult. I simply avoid situations that call for leaving the safety of gravity. My kids climb ladders for me, and I stay away from malls with open second floors.

No big deal. Just a quirk I was born with that keeps me grounded. 

I heard a mashal from my uncle, the gaon Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer. Suppose you have a person who’s scared to walk in a deserted place at night. However, if you offered him a large sum of money, he’d do it.

Has he conquered his fear? If he’s capable of walking there when offered money, then perhaps the fear was imagined, and now it’s gone.

However, that’s not the case. The fear was always there and it’s still implanted in his mind. But he’s willing to work against it because of the money. (ibid.) 

My fear of spiders came later in life. It exploded full force Erev Succos the first year I was married. We were living in a basement apartment and I was cooking while my husband built our first succah. As I measured and mixed, I felt something sharp poking inside my sneaker. Figuring I must’ve stepped on a thumbtack or nail, I sat down to check the bottom of my shoe, but there was nothing there.

Slipping off my sneaker, I shrieked. Hanging on to my toe was the biggest, blackest, hairiest spider I’d ever seen, his fangs sunk into my big toe. I smashed my foot against the wall. He dropped his hold and fled.

Hysterically sobbing, I ran outside to tell my husband that I’d just been bitten by a black widow spider and my days were numbered. Gallant knight that he is, he found the petrifying creature, killed it, and brought it to the doctor to determine its status.

It wasn’t poisonous, but my mind had been poisoned. The rest of Succos I jumped at any rustling sound, peered anxiously into corners, and didn’t step on the floor until I knew the coast was clear.

Until today, any time I see an eight-legged creature, my heart leaps into my throat as I relive the horrendous Attack of the Arachnid. 

Fear of Heaven is different than this type of fear. It doesn’t occur naturally — a person must create the fear. Even if Heaven directs a person toward fear, he still has to work on it. Yiras Shamayim cannot come from any source other than a person’s efforts. (ibid.) 

“Mommy, there’s a lion in my room.” 

I opened one eye and found Yitzi’s face plastered against mine.

“What time is it?”

“It’s a thousand-thirty o’clock and the lion wants to eat me.”

“There’s no lion in your room, Yitzi. It’s all in your head.” My maternal instincts go into hibernation after midnight.

“He is so there! He told me he’s going to eat me!”

I shuffled into Yitzi’s room and poked my head under his bed.

“The lion feels bad he scared you. He told me he was just joking and he’s leaving now back to the zoo. So all’s quiet.”

With this reassurance, I tucked Yitzi back in and collapsed into my bed.

Mr. Roosevelt had a good point. Fear itself is a beast to be bested. I wonder if I could make my spiders magically disappear like I waved off the lion. Then I’d only be left with acrophobia. Which could actually be a good thing. We can all use a healthy dose of fear of Heights. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 554)