Aren’t you afraid? That was just one of the great, profound, silly, or hilarious topics of conversation at a warm and wonderful Shabbos dinner last night. Fear! Around the table was a rabbi, a Jewish educator, a rabbinical student, a yeshiva student, a jewelry maker, a young woman who just made alyah, a recent widow from the United States, a Philippino Christian and me. At points during the dinner we were with tears of laughter in our eyes.
We eventually wound our way to the topic of fear and quickly realized that we had a question in common. Aren’t you afraid? Each one of us has been asked that question of our lives here. We make our homes in Israel….aren’t you afraid? We ride public transportation….aren’t you afraid? We have Palestinian friends….aren’t you afraid? We venture into a crowded souk….aren’t you afraid? We go to Bethlehem….aren’t you afraid? And, of course, we laughed together at what seems like a ridiculous question. But then we became silent. The rabbi said that the fear people ask us about is the fear within themselves. How easy it is to project one’s own fear on someone else.
More than likely there was some such fear within each one of us when we came here. How could there not be when you come to a place that is so foreign and different from our previous understanding of life and living. But when the unchartered waters of our life experiences become familiar, fear does dissipate. Philip Berrigan, an internationally known peace activist and former priest writes, “Fear is a reminder that we are creatures – fragile, vulnerable, totally dependent on God. But fear shouldn’t dominate or control or define us. Rather, it should submit to faith and love.”
Fear does, finally, in the end, have to submit to faith in God. If not then our lives will be lived in darkness and despair, in anxiety and trepidation. Faith in God enables us to get out of our own way, to trust, to be open, and to proceed into the future that is only filled with promise and hope. God reassured Isaac that he would not be alone and would be blessed with offspring for Abraham’s sake. Moses restores confidence in the Israelites that God is with them, don’t be afraid. An angel appeared to Mary saying, “Fear not young woman, God has found favor with you.” The heavenly hosts appeared to the fearful shepherds saying “don’t be afraid” and they hurried off to the place to where Jesus was born.
Fear and faith are twined together. Fear is a cry of human abandonment. Faith, in the miraculous and reassuring power of God’s strength and love is the antidote to our all too only human fear.