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Parshah Beshalach

01/13/2022 02:29:56 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

Why did it take 40 years for us to get from Egypt to the Promised Land? Well, of course, it had to do with the gender of the leader and HIS inability to stop and ask for directions. This is the joke many of us have told and/or heard time and again from people as a commentary on the tendency of males to be unwilling to ask for directions. In all seriousness, I’m sure if you asked Carrie about me and this tendency, she would have numerous stories about my unwillingness to ask other people or even Waze. But that’s not the real reason it took 40 years when it should have taken just over a month. There are many reasons. The first reason is at the beginning of this week’s Parshah, Beshalach: God determined a specific route in order for us to avoid certain things. In this case, God didn’t want us to encounter the militarily strong Philistines because we might have gotten fearful and returned to Egypt. This makes sense, but like all plans, this one didn’t truly work out because we ended up encountering enemies time and again; the Egyptians, the Amalekites and the Amorites are a few of enemies we faced. In fact, the first two battled with us in this very Parshah. The intention that God had in this route was to protect us from being fearful and that was a noble reason, but it was one that didn’t truly materialize as we remained fearful for much of our time in the desert and still do to this day.
Fear is a crippling and powerful emotion. It's something that holds people back each and every day from realizing their true potential. We are each forced to confront our fears time and again over the course of our lives. While fears are at times about legitimate things that deserve our fearfulness, the reality is for many of us, our fears are unfounded and without any real cause. It’s the latter form of fears we need to discuss. We need to better understand what makes us think in irrational ways and allow ourselves to be frozen from growing and doing things that would make our lives better. There are people who are fearful of planes and will never be able to see this incredible world. There are people who are scared of having their hearts broken and never go out to meet people and thus remain alone. There are people who fear change and as such never get to experience new things our world has to offer. The reality is that risk is inherent in all that we do. We accept a level of risk in our daily lives. That’s the cost of being human. We each weigh the risks against the benefits of doing something we’re scared of doing. A great example of this is the very dangerous activity of skiing. Many of us enjoy skiing, but it’s inherently a great risk. We take a very slick substance, frozen water, and place waxed flat objects on them to which we are bound, and place ourselves on a steep incline. There is so much that can go wrong and yet many of us are aware, that if done correctly, we can enjoy skiing in a moderately safe way. We can manage to have fun and minimize the risk all at once.
The art of balancing our needs to grow and experience the world in an enjoyable way will always be in conflict with risk. We can choose to embrace that tension or we can live lives on the edges, with overwhelming and debilitating fear or extreme recklessness. As is true with almost everything in our world, the answer lies in the middle where we weigh our options and make informed decisions. As a parent I’ve learned new meaning of what it means to be afraid. The moment we learned we were expecting Ayelet, I learned a whole new way of seeing the world. I began to see that every single thing could harm us… that our children could be hurt in so many ways. That never ends. I remember the day we got the call that Galit had been born and was ready for us to bring her into our lives. We were so scared of the unknowns. We were filled with such anxieties about our age and the very different world we were going to be living in when we became a family of four. Those fears were natural, but also completely unfounded, as our lives would be incomplete without her. By the way, we received that call two years ago today. January 13, 2022 is her second birthday. Happy Birthday Galit!
I’m sure parents of adult children can attest to the reality that they still worry about their children on a regular basis. We worry because when we have something so precious, that we have no control over, it’s not just scary… it’s terrifying. The trick is to learn to diminish our fears and enlarge our love and hope for our kids. We cannot allow fear to govern our every movement and decision. If we’re able to harness the powers of our fears to be a bit reserved and cautious, we might be able to help our children grow and enjoy life as we did. We might be able to love them enough to allow our fears to be diminished by our faith in them, and in the world.
God led us out of Egypt in a very parental way by trying to shield us from our fears. But that could only take us so far. We still needed to confront those fears time and again. Life today is no different: fears are real and they are part of our human experience. In the words of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav:
כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד. והעקר לא לפחד כלל. The whole world is a narrow bridge and the essence is to not be afraid. Our world will always provide us with ample reasons to be afraid on a regular basis. We’ll always have reasons to look over the sides of the bridge and see a drop into the abyss. But if we manage our fears and anxieties, we’ll be able to reach the other side of the bridge having lived lives of meaning and joy, surrounded by those we love the most.

Sun, May 22 2022 21 Iyyar 5782