As a former Rabbi I felt it would be valuable to help put some of the unhealthy fear associated with the ‘Days of Awe’ into context.
Some people suffer from the extra emotional burden of this time of year and I thought perhaps it would help to understand where many of these emotions come from.
In order to help keep religion at the forefront of people’s lives Orthodox Judaism developed a mechanism to instill a profound deep fear into its followers. One might go as far as saying a part of the societies MO is traumatizing children from the time of infancy with a constant fear of terrible repercussion from an almighty vengeful God who will burn us in hellfire for disobeying his will. As adults innured by this from our own infancy we may no longer see it that way, but when you take an honest look at it, you may also realize this is indeed what we are doing.
Unfortunately in this model, this fear is unremitting as thousands of halachos fill our lives keeping us shackled to it from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep at night with the countless details in between. This Vengeful God who will punish us for disobeying any of these small practices is built up and made a dominant focal point, indeed obsession.
To make matters worse parents and teachers often rely on this mechanism of fear to supplement their own discipline in an effort to bolster their own authority and instill obedience until people’s lives become totally saturated with this fear. This may help explain why many struggle with self determination, logically they want to control their lives yet deep inside this trauma still manifests.
Unfortunately this ingrained fear can become a jumping board into many other forms of trauma and at times even neurosis.
As where this dynamic can be unhealthy during the year during the Days of Awe it can become too much to bear. The overwhelming focus on judgement, punishment, death… The triggering descriptions of how many tortuous ways God can kill you and cause you pain if you disobey Him and the unremitting rehashing of these concepts throughout the liturgy can be extremely difficult to bear.
If you find your own relationship to religion and observance comes from an unhealthy fear it may be worthwhile seeking out help from a professional to free yourself from the trauma this rearing process has instilled in you.
If you find the days of “Awe” manifest as days of fear or worse terror then it’s critical to focus on a track where you can unshakle yourself from the unhealthy state of mind you have been weaned into.
Whatever it may be, may we all have a real renewal this time of year, a year of healthiness, a year of self determination and a year of finding our real selves anew.