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6.16.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Jun 16, 2017 8:49 pm
by RabbiMark
Learning from Fear

“Fear … this short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it.” (AA, pg. 67)

For those of us in recovery, confronting our fears plays a critical role in our healing. I remember having to write out the answers to the following questions:

What are your ten greatest fears?
What are the consequences in your experience from those fears?

It was a powerful exercise that I continue to use for myself and with my clients.

What I have come to learn is that fear, as well as its “offspring” - including worry, anxiety, and despair - are projections of the future. In other words, fear is of the future, not what is actually present or what may necessarily be the future. Such fearful projections of the future take a terrible toll; they are uncomfortable and can become an obsessive part of our minds.

Of course, fearful projections of the future serve a purpose. Since the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago, we Homo sapiens have honed our fear. We needed the ability to anticipate potential future harm that might come to crops or animals from seasonal changes and diseases; if we can anticipate problems in the future we may do something in the present to avoid them. That’s true to this day. In fact, fear has saved all of our lives at some point. We may have refused to do something too risky for fear of future harm (e.g., refusing to get into a car with a drunk driver) or we may have taken wise precautions against something harmful coming our way (e.g., immunization against a disease).

The down side of fearful projections into the future is, however, that we may become unnecessarily doubtful and pessimistic, and refrain from taking the necessary risks to grow. As the maxim goes: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Take the case of the spies in this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lakh L’kha: God instructs Moses to send twelve spies into the Land of Canaan to assess its merits and potential. The spies return after forty days and report that the land is indeed “flowing with milk and honey.” However, ten of the twelve spies give a discouraging account, claiming that “giants” inhabit the land and that it is hopeless to try to enter it. Upon the hearing this, the rest of the Israelites give up in despair, shouting, “If only we might die in this wilderness!” (Num. 14:1-2). Only Joshua and Caleb remain optimistic.

Tragically, it is from this episode that God decides that this group of Israelites will not enter the Land, and it wouldn’t be until forty years had passed that another generation of Israelites would enter.

Would the land or the inhabitants be any different in forty years? Not really. So, what is it the difference between the spies and their fearful projections and the next generation of Israelites? What are we to learn from fear and our how to get beyond it?

Fear has great benefit, but it can also be a stumbling block when we foresee inevitable challenge and even pain. We are blessed to project a future image of what might be, but that does not keep us from having to still walk through it and experience it. We are here to integrate our consciousness by not only envisioning the future in our minds but also consciously experiencing it in our bodies. It is only in these moments that we truly know who we are by seeing what we can figure out, adapt to, and solve. We can’t truly know what the future will hold until we meet it, and most of the time, our fear of the future is worse than what we actually experience.

The Israelites who left Egypt couldn’t enter and inhabit the land because they believed they couldn’t. Perhaps the spies who were sent to assess the land were, in fact, sent to assess themselves. What they found was not a land filled with “giants,” but a perspective of themselves as “grasshoppers.” With such a perspective, they were already doomed to fail. Joshua and Caleb, however, did not see it as the other ten. Where the ten spies saw impossibility, Joshua and Caleb saw opportunity. It’s all a matter of perspective. Joshua and Caleb, of course, were then chosen to live on to lead the next generation into the Land.

Fear is ultimately a great teacher. With it we can learn much about ourselves … if we face our fears and courageously walk through them. With such self-assessment, no matter how painstaking it is, we will discover, as the Big Book promises:

We are going to know a new freedom and new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. (AA pgs. 83-84).

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Paul Steinberg