Each year as Passover approaches I’m given reason to consider my fears and how I deal with them. I do this because I remember learning about how fearful the Children of Israel felt at the shore of the Red Sea as the Egyptians approached.
I was at an event near my home in Silicon Valley and the late Rabbi Alan Lew, may his memory be for blessing, was speaking about his newest book, Be Still and Get Going. He explained to us how the Israelites’ perception was skewed by their fear. This reminded me of Rabbi Nachman’s teaching about the “narrow bridge,” which many Jews know simply as a song; however, the translation most people have of Rabbi Nachman’s words are incorrect. Most often they are translated this way: ““Know! A person walks in life on a narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid.” A more accurate translation of his words is: “The most important thing is not to MAKE yourself afraid.”
What he is telling us is that fear is all about our thoughts…where we focus them. When we think about the possibility of danger or of negative outcomes or of unwanted futures we MAKE ourselves afraid. Fears don’t make us afraid; we make ourselves afraid by thinking about fearful things.
Rabbi Lew taught the same lesson. He said that in that moment at the edge of the Red Sea as the Children of Israel called out to Moses and to God in fear, the must first stop feeling afraid. Next, he told them to stand firm; in other words, stop moving. (We tend to run or become activated when we feel afraid.) Then, he told them to be silent. (Rabbi Lew equated this with meditating or going inward.) Moses then said they would never again see the Egyptians they way they were seeing them in that moment; basically, once they had stopped and gotten centered and could look at the situation without their fear, they would see things differently. At that point, with the inner wisdom gained from contemplation, God told Moses to tell the Israelites to take action–inspired action, informed action.
So, each Passover I take an accounting of my fears and I consider how I am dealing with them…or how they are dealing with me. I ask myself my fear are causing me to react–to run, to hide, to make uninformed, uninspired, ungrounded decisions. And then I try to stop, be silent, look around, and then act. And hopefully I act differently and not from a place of fear but from a placed of calm, courageous, inspired faith that all is well and will be well.