The Purple Sheet
Shabbat Parshat Bechukotai – 3rd/4th 2016 – כ’ז אייר תשע’ו
There is Nothing to Fear…
This week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai is not one of the funner Torah readings. It contains the Tochacha – the Admonition or Reproof which is a very disturbing part of the Torah whereby God describes, in painful detail, the evils that will befall the Jewish people if we choose to abandon a close relationship with Him. At the time that it was presented by Moshe it was prophecy but today it has become our history. While the parsha starts with the good news – the blessings that will result by listening to God and following His mitzvot – most of it is devoted to the troubling alternative.
Reward and Punishment are generally not discussed in polite company, not being most people’s favorite topic. This is especially true in our day and age where happy and fun reign supreme and being chastised is a huge downer. Too often we tend to shy away from such issues. But ostrich-like behavior is never a good thing and we need to get some sort of understanding of how to deal with the Torah’s dire threats that are mentioned here and elsewhere.
Jewish tradition stresses that there are two distinct avenues by which one connects with God and that both are indispensable perspectives for a full relationship with Him. One is through Love and the other is through Fear. In fact, it is not only Judaism that has this system but that these two diverse approaches apply to most other areas in life as well.
There are times in life when we do things via the emotion and impetus of Love and Affection and an innate enjoyment to the activity or the relationship that gives us meaning, pleasure and fulfillment. Nobody needs to twist our arm to take a nice vacation with the wife or share a great dinner with her at your favourite restaurant, or to sit with your kids at your beloved team’s hockey or baseball game. We happily involve ourselves with those joyous times that build and solidify relationships.
On the other hand, there are things we must do in life because we have to do them and have no choice; it is simply an obligation, no more and no less. Nobody likes to pay their bills, but sitting in a home without electricity isn’t exactly a picnic. Or, I have yet to meet someone who is thrilled and excited to pay the Regulatory Programs & Telco Recovery Fee or the Federal Universal Service Fund fee on their cellphone bills, but what are you going to do… if you don’t, they will cut your service. We don’t make these payments out of our great love for T-Mobile but from the motivation that not doing so has repercussions and the resulting consequence is more painful than the obligatory act.
The word for fear in Hebrew is yirah. It is related to the Hebrew word, roeh – whose root means “to see”. In Judaism, the notion of fear, as in “Fear of God” means looking down the road to see the long-term consequences of one’s actions and choices. Most of us parents use this tact as we understand that much of the job of raising children is educating them to see the long-term effects of their choices. Hence we react (or over-react according to the kids) to their behavior in strong terms because we know we have limited time to shape, teach and influence them. We judge their choices not merely as actions being done in the present, but in creating habits that will affect the rest of their lives. So while there is a lot of love in raising children, there must be an equal amount of discipline to sensitize them to the long-term influences of their behavior that will shape their future.
Fear of wasting one’s life in the abyss of meaninglessness is a crucial ingredient to ensure that our lives are not frittered away on every inanity that crosses our path via the press or the internet. Because millions of people throw away good money and time to see yet another Zombie movie does not mean that I have to do the same. And just as importantly, fear of a bad choice often keeps us in check from silly, harmful and damaging behavior. How often do we read of public figures who forget this simple truth and engage in reckless actions that compromise their future and family, leaving us to wonder, “What were they thinking?”
If we go through life without giving thought of the long-term effects of our choices, we can forever damage the beautiful and fragile things in life that mean the most to us. Furthermore without a good dose of fear, we can squander away the most precious gift that God has given us – time. Fear creates an edge to life through the realization that you do not want to waste any moments with meaningless, or worse, damaging choices that can set you back, keep you from realizing your greatness or hurting others.
But to take it a step even further, Fear is only debilitating when it results in paralysis. The alternative and positive use of Fear is that it makes us feel aware and alive, as in those instances in life where all our senses and efforts are operating on all cylinders because to make one slip-up can and will result in life-altering results. The surgeon, the sports figure, the mother of 7 juggling a myriad of details flying at her from every direction much the way a CEO would, or anybody in those instances where a lot is on the line – they do not shy away from consequences of mistakes but instead turn it up a notch. Fear is a spice that allows us to maximize our potential and push our abilities into a higher gear. Fear is to be embraced and cherished not shunned and avoided.
We have nothing to fear with Fear and we should fully take advantage of this natural steroid that God has given us to keep our lives full, meaningful and alive. And if there is any people who live in a constant sense of Fear and Edge, it is we Jewish people who get it from all sides. And it is no accident that no other people have become more productive, creative and have a history that can be described as anything but boring. A little bit of fear is good; living on the edge every once in a while is even better.
You know I bet he’s not so tough
Ain’t afraid of him cause I’m a fool for love
I’ve come far to find Big Jim
Well here I am and I guess you him
I see how you got your name
You’re tall as hell and broad as a train
They say you a hard-born man
And the baddest guy in the whole wide land
Well I’m not afraid to fight
Let’s step outside and I’ll show you why
Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale
Aish South Florida www.aishfl.com