In some cases, it's even despised.
True, great tzaddikim have been saying for generations that our generations cannot handle the pious fear expected of our ancestors.
But that doesn’t mean that yirah — yirat Shamayim and yirat Hashem and yirat ha'onesh (fear of Heavenly punishment) — should be ignored completely.
There is way too much emphasis throughout Tanach & Chazal to dismiss the necessity of yirah.
Particularly if you read or hear about those who’ve suffered in the Afterlife, whether in Rav Yehudah Petiyah’s stories in Minchat Yehudah or Rabbi Alon Anava’s near-death experience or anything else — and how even a moment of sincere regret could have saved them so much suffering — we need to realize that there is indeed a Judge and Judgement.
Personally, there have been times when I refrained from doing or saying something only because the works of tzaddikim repeatedly emphasized the fact that I’ll eventually need to face the consequences of my negative actions.
Furthermore, so much of Judaism, whether Tehillim or anything else, emphasizes how deeply Hashem probes your true motivations. You can fool others (or think you're fooling others) and you can fool yourself, but Hashem knows the real reason why you decided to do what you did.
For example, there are times I really wanted to indulge in lashon hara, but the idea of facing that particularly odious sin later kept my words muzzled. Sure, I could lie to myself and invent some kind of toelet, a beneficial reason, but Hashem knows the truth and deep down, so do I.
Having said that, many people are inspired by the idea that for every moment you refrain from indulging in particularly gratifying lashon hara, you create a light that even high angels cannot perceive. I’m inspired by that too.
But sometimes, the fear aspect makes a better muzzle.
It also depends on your individual personality and what you personally need to bring out the best of your soul-potential.
The Way Out of Spiritual Bankruptcy
In the chapter on Teshuvah, the Pele Yoetz explains in the name of the Arizal that the little done in our generation is considered like the great performed in previous generations.
The klippah (the external spiritually negative "shell") is stronger and our sins are stronger, making us weaker.
In Chulin 84a, Chazal writes: “Father was from a healthy family, but we need to borrow money and eat well.”
This explains it all in a nutshell.
Spiritually speaking, we are the weaker, sicker descendants. If we eat minimally like our father from a healthy family, we can become even weaker, sicker, and die, chas v’shalom. So we need to “borrow money and eat well” just to survive.
The Pele Yoetz goes on to explain that we are like a man who owes a great debt, goes bankrupt, and lacks the means to pay in full.
How can we shoulder such a burden?
The Pele Yoetz advises us to:
- Speak like a poor man (i.e., admit the bankruptcy & impoverishment)
- Show your “accounts” (i.e., “See? This is what I owe, and this and this, and here are my empty coffers.”)
- Continue until your “creditor” agrees that in light of the facts, you should be allowed to pay back over time whenever and as much as you are able — but no more than that because you simply don’t have it.
(Yet you will certainly give what you can when you can.)
This is how we should speak with Hashem.
Yes, it’s the opposite of our generation’s voices promoting self-assurance, self-praise, self-aggrandizement and self-cheerleading, constantly pumping up ourselves and tweeting/posting our most minor accomplishments.
Yay me! Rah, rah, rah!
(Note: It's possible to serve Hashem with joy & without self-aggrandizement. It's also possible feel joy about a spiritually healthy fear of Hashem. It all goes together.)
But really, we should be saying to Hashem: “I know I should be doing more and I wish I could do more, but this is my best for now. Please forgive me and please help me. Please give me what I need to make it through.”
And feel happy about that.
As the Pele Yoetz concludes:
Likewise, we are broke and we don’t have the ability to withdraw ourselves from our debt —only that which is within our power to do, we shall do little by little, to rectify what we have corrupted throughout the days of our lives.
Perhaps God will consider us and forgive all our debt — but on the condition that all that is in our power to do, we shall do and accept upon ourselves.
But not completely ignore the benefit of a spiritually healthy fear of God.