Just watching, hearing or seeing the latest news from one day to the next is enough to instill in anyone a sense of fear.
This month has been designated as LGBT Pride Month (by our previous administration) and yet mixed with the pride felt by many in our community, there is also a terrible sadness. This week was the first anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting when 49 were killed and 53 more were wounded. The attack was the deadliest single gunman mass shooting in U.S. history as well as the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people. It was also the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since the September 11 attacks of 2001. With incidents like this occurring on an almost regular basis, it’s hard not to be afraid.
Unfortunately, this is nothing new for those of us in the Jewish community who see dangerous signs of anti-Semitism around the world and who worry about the safety and security of our friends and families in Israel. Earlier this week we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, when we feared that the State of Israel might be destroyed. Israelis still live each day with that possibility on their minds. There are many fine articles and reflections to read on the subject, including this one posted today on the Reform Judaism website.
When it comes to coping with fear, however, there is no better source to consult than our scriptures. This week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach L’cha (Numbers 13-15) deals with fear as directly as any contemporary psychological or sociological study. It recounts the time when Moses sends twelve scouts into Canaan to scope out the Promised Land and bring back a report on their likelihood to lay claim to it. When they return, two scouts (Joshua and Caleb) give the people a “green light” to go forth into the Land with confidence, but the other scouts give a pessimistic report and consequently, the Israelites succumb to fear.
A rabbinic colleague and former HUC-JIR classmate, Rabbi Vered Harris just posted an excellent commentary on this incident and writes:
The scouts that surveyed the Land and came back with more fear than hope spread that fear to an entire generation. Striving to live a religious life, we are challenged with the task of spreading more hope than fear…. We do this through the words we share, the prayers we recite, the kindness we extend to others, and the justice we pursue….Focusing on the light of hope can bring us to be among those who enjoy the fruits of the Promised Land.
This is an inspiring message that we would do well to take to heart. Tomorrow night, we will commemorate the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, acknowledging the fear and sadness that persists but also affirming our support for the safety, health and dignity of all peoples, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. (By the way, here is a great video along these lines just released by the American Jewish World Service.)
Remembering our ancestors in the wilderness, I am reminded of a line paraphrased from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural address: “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” In reality, there are many things and people to fear, but our tradition reminds us that fear without hope will not take us where we need to go. Let us follow the example of Caleb and Joshua by not being paralyzed by our fears but, rather, going forward with pride and hope.
R’ Moshe Tom