The greatest downside of Yra’at Shamayim (Fear of Heaven) which is not properly rooted in the light of torah, is that fear of sin is replaced with intellectual fear. Once a person becomes afraid to think, he slowly becomes mired in ignorance that takes away the light of his soul, weakens him and thickens his spirit.
לעולם אין רשות להתיבה האמורה או הנכתבת להיות סותמת בפני השכל הישר וזה כלל גדול בתורה בין בדיעות היותר נשגבות בין בפרטים היותר קלים
(Idem 278 – page 88)
One may never let the oral or written word override straight logic. This is a great Torah rule, whether on the weightiest theological issues or in the lighter details.
The popular understanding of Yra’at Shamayim is meticulousness with the performance of rituals, especially ritualistic Mitzvot. It is at the root of the Chumra phenomenon we observe nowadays. It extends into the areas of thought. One may not think for himself, must accept on belief all that he was told is supposedly “Mesora” without questioning its veracity even when it goes against logic. The “consensus” of the opinion of, according to some “Klal Ysroel” and others “Gedolei Hatorah”, whatever the definition of these terms may be, is binding. This closed-mindedness is a false fear that is not rooted in Torah. It throws the person back into the dark ages. Torah on the other hand teaches us to seek out the truth and not to shy away from it. The “light” of Torah illuminates our minds, admonishes us to always think, observe things with open eyes and an open mind. Fear of sin is not the same as intellectual fear. Suppressing thought takes away from a person that which makes him human: his soul, creativity and spirit.
Reliance on one’s logic, the ability to think freely, applies in all matters even when confronted with oral or written words, no matter who the author is. This does not mean that an authoritative text that one does not understand should be dismissed. It means that if it is authentic and authoritative and does not make sense, it must have been misunderstood and needs further investigation. The Torah is truth and is not afraid of it. When honestly and thoroughly investigated, it stands up to all scrutiny. Such fear of thinking is an insult to Torah as if it has to hide from truth and has to be accepted on faith.