Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen
In order to reach the lofty heights of yirat shamayim (fear of Heaven), one must first acquire the attributes of zehirat (watchfulness), nekiut (cleanliness), tahara (purity), and perishut (asceticism).
There are two levels of yirat shamayim, yirat ha’onesh and yirat ha’romemut. Yirat ha’onesh is fear of retribution. This is easier to reach than yirat ha’romemut (fear of His exaltedness), because man loves himself so much that he doesn’t want to hurt himself. This is only the first level.
Learning Torah or performing mitzvot in order to get reward or avoid punishment is called lo lishma. Doing so without thought of remuneration or punishment is termed lishma. Torah and mitzvot must begin shelo lishma. The beauty of Torah is then revealed through practicing it.
The second level is yirat ha’romemut. After a person has distanced himself from sin, he won’t be able to bring himself to go against the will of Hashem. This is no longer simple yirah. It requires knowledge, intelligence and love to contemplate the majesty and greatness of Hashem.
The Shaarei Teshuva explains daaga (worry) on three levels. The first level is due to fear of punishment. The second level is worrying that even if one has already repented, the yetzer hara may come back again. The third level is fearing that maybe one didn’t repent completely.
Rav Solomon explains that the purpose of daaga is for a person to find a way to avoid punishment. The mitzvot he will do will be instead of retribution. If a person adds to his Torah learning at the expense of enjoying the pleasures of this world, it’s a form of atonement. Taking money he would have spent on luxuries and instead giving it to charity is also a form of suffering. Eat less, relax less, limit your desires, and devote more time to Torah and mitzvot. These are the best ways to achieve atonement.
Yirat ha’romemut relates to performing mitzvot. It’s trembling before the honor of Hashem. Yirat ha’onesh is not just fearing sin when the yetzer hara tells you to transgress, but worrying all the time about going against Hashem’s will. Then a person will always be careful as it says, “Ashrei hadam mefached tamid.” Happy is the man who always fears.
May we be inspired to elevate ourselves to greater levels of yirat Hashem.