1. What Are We Afraid of?
“Terror Fears Put Mumbai on Alert” … “Amid Holiday Terror Fears, Embassies Hit By Bomb Blasts” screamed the headlines last week, the latter reporting on bombs exploding at Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome. And when they did, no one was surprised. After all, over the last decade we have been in a constant state of alert, as our world has grown increasingly volatile. We are always afraid of what may be coming next.
Plug in the word “fear” into the New York Times search engine, and you begin to see what we are Americans are afraid of: we fear higher taxes, we fear global warming, we fear losing our jobs, we fear China, Russia and Iran (not necessarily in that order), we fear the collapse of the Social Security system, we fear another terrorist attack, we fear further economic woes, we fear for our children, we fear for our soldiers overseas. You name it, we fear it.
Fear has become a pervasive force in our lives, permeating everything from the long security lines at airports, to the police presence at our synagogues and Jewish Centers.
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 unknown? Fear is always with us, because it is a by-product of our attachment to the material world. After all, materialism by its nature is fleeting, and when our lives are built on such a temporary foundation, how can we expect to feel secure?
Though fear has been with us throughout history, today it has taken on acute proportions, both globally and personally.
This week’s Torah reading, in its opening words, provides a clue to the best antidote to fear: “And G-d said to Moses: ‘Come to Pharaoh…’” Seeing that Moses was afraid to confront the very essence of evil inside Pharaoh, God told him, “Come to Pharaoh. Come with Me. Don’t be afraid, for you are not going there alone. I am coming with you, and I will help you eradicate the evil at its source.”
Realizing that we are not alone, and G-d is always with us is the ultimate antidote to fear. This sermon examines the steps necessary for connecting to G-d and offers some concrete advice how to implement them.
2. Is There Hope on the Dark Side of the Moon?
Among the top ten scientific discoveries of 2010 was the amazing fact – proved once and for all – that the moon is not a dry desert as we always thought. The moon is wet! It is one more fascinating thing about a heavenly body that is endlessly intriguing to us.
Yet, in this week’s Torah reading – which anchors the Jewish calendar to the moon – we learn that Moses was troubled by it, not fascinated. Why?
The mystics explain that Moses was struggling with some of the fundamental dilemmas of existence as they are reflected in the birth of the new moon – in particular, how to deal with pain and loss. Moses understood that the waxing and waning moon reflects the ups and downs of life and history. But Moses was disturbed because he knew that this powerful symbol of death and rebirth was not enough. Moses in effect was saying: “If You, G-d, want man to grow through the dark challenges, You must give us the power of hope – the strength to forge ahead despite the inability to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
G-d agreed. In response, G-d showed Moses something that is otherwise impossible to see – the birthing itself. The point when the darkness turns into light, the exact moment when the seeds of suffering yield the fruits of greatness.
A moving story of a young boy’s hope during the Holocaust, as well as an inspiring story of a paralyzed Israeli poet, illuminate for us what Moses was able to see.
Birth means something new. Therefore, we can never see the exact moment when the old becomes new. But Moses did see – once for all times. And we can draw enormous strength from his vision as this sermon explains.