What are We Afraid Of?
And G-d said to Moses: “Come to Pharaoh…” – Exodus
Said Rabbi Shimeon: Now it is time to reveal
secrets that are bound above and below. Why does it say, “Come
to Pharaoh”? It should have said, “Go to Pharaoh” .... But
G-d brought Moses into a chamber within a chamber, to the...
supernal and mighty serpent from which many levels evolve...which
Moses feared to approach himself because he saw that he was
rooted in supernal roots...
Zohar, part II, 34a
Fear is perhaps our greatest enemy. Not because
it is loud and aggressive, but because it is invisible. Is
there a person alive that does not suffer from some fear,
known or (even worse) unknown? And what effects do our fears
have on our lives – what impact does it have on our choices
and ambitions, on our behavior, pride, jealousy, anger and
so many other emotions? Can it even be measured?
Is our drive for success a way to mask or compensate
for some of our fears? What critical mass effect does fear
have on society?
Above all, what are we exactly afraid of and
what is the root of fear? Without getting to the core of our
fears we can hardly expect to alleviate them.
This question is more compelling today than
ever as we face fears of all sorts, as national and international
tensions continue to escalate, unleashing our underlying emotions
in this climate of global uncertainty.
Though our fears today have obvious roots (fear
of attack, fear of death), yet we see that there are individuals
– as has always been the case in history – that do not get
paralyzed by fear and have the ability to grow through it.
What is their secret?
This week’s Torah portion, parshat Bo, teaches
us the secret to both the root of fear and to its antidote.
The chapter opens with the following words:
And G-d said to Moses: “Come to Pharaoh…” The Zohar
[classical mystical text] asks the question: Why does it
say, “Come to Pharaoh”? It should have said, “Go to Pharaoh”
... But G-d brought Moses into a chamber within a chamber,
to the... supernal and mighty serpent from which many levels
evolve...which Moses feared to approach himself because he
saw that he was rooted in supernal roots...”
Moses had already visited Pharaoh many times
before this commandment, “Come to Pharaoh.” What suddenly
frightened Moses this time around? And how did G-d’s response
“Come to Pharaoh” assuage his fear?
Up till this point Moses dealt with Pharaoh
in his various manifestations, not his essence. But now he
is told to enter into the core essence of Pharaoh’s evil,
the ‘great serpent.’ This terrified Moses. To which G-d responds:
“Come to Pharaoh,” Come with me. G-d is saying that you don’t
go alone. I come with you and help you eradicate the evil
at its source.
And here we see the true nature of fear.
Fear’s true power is in the loneliness that
it imposes upon us. We feel we are alone in our predicament.
We feel that no one can understand our pain and suffering.
And even if someone can empathize, we still feel that they
are not with us, not one with us and therefore ultimately
we remain isolated.
Life inherently has a built in existential insecurity.
Upon birth, the Talmud tells us, we are made to forget the
teachings ingrained into our very psyches and souls. Existence,
the mystics teach us, is an effect of a cosmic detachment.
As a result of the ‘great tzimtzum’ we feel all alone; we
feel we are on our own – isolated in a desolate universe,
disconnected from any source of sustenance.
This existential loneliness is the root of fear.
And this is what Moses – even the great Moses – was so terrified
of as he prepared to confront the core evil of Pharaoh, the
‘supernal serpent.’ He was afraid and felt that he was going
Obviously, Moses’ fear is relative to him and
to the unprecedented challenge he was facing: Encountering
and purging the root essence of evil. Fear is relative to
each person and his/her situation, the difficulties each of
us faces and the strengths each of us has. What frightens
one person may not even stir another. Yet, the common denominator
between all of us is – and this is the relevant lesson we
derive from Moses – that fear (on the level relative to us)
results from our sense of isolation.
And therefore G-d’s response to Moses’ terror
is, “Come with Me,” I go with you.
This is the powerful message that each of us
must take from parshat Bo – “Come with Me.” No matter how
lonely we may feel, especially in our loss and pain, we are
The only answer to the invisible power of fear
– the fear of being alone – is to recognize that you are not
You are never alone.