Don't Be So Afraid
Most all of us have things that make us feel afraid. This week's Torah portion teaches us the secret of how to become fearless. As the Jewish People were coming to dwell in the Land of Israel they had to face some fearsome enemies along the way. It would be natural to feel afraid, yet the Torah gave them - and gives us - an amazing tool how overcome to fear: Realize that we are never alone; God is always right by our side to help and strengthen us in whatever situation we're in. When we know that God is near, our fear will disappear.
In our story a couple of kids in a scary situation face the challenge of whether to fear or not to fear.
"WEATHERING THE STORM"
It was amazing how fast the sky went dark. One moment Becky and Marla were sitting and enjoying a yummy picnic lunch under blue skies at the campgrounds where they and their family were staying - and the next they were running like crazy to make it back to their cabin just seconds before the gray sky burst into a huge storm.
"Wow, we just beat that storm, huh?!" said Becky with a huge smile.
But Marla wasn't smiling. "I'm scared Becky. Why did Mom and Dad have to pick today of all days to leave us alone and go into town?"
BOOM! Suddenly a huge crash of thunder rocked the cabin. Marla dove under her blanket as Becky went to the window to check it out.
"Pretty awesome thunder, huh?" said Becky, turning back around. "Hey, where'd you go?"
She discovered her sister wrapped up like a mummy and shivering on her cot. "Hey, are you okay?" Becky asked.
"Okay?" stammered Marla as she peeked out from the edge of her quilt. "How can anyone be okay when the sky is exploding?"
Becky was about to try and calm her sister down, when BOOOM!! - another clap of thunder cracked even louder than the first, this time causing a power blackout that left the kids totally in the dark. The only light came in from the flashes of lightning which cut like knives through the nearly black skies.
Now Marla really started losing it. She was crying and holding onto her blanket like a life jacket on a sinking ship.
"Come on Marla, it's okay. It's really going to be okay," Becky tried to assure her.
The girl peered out at her sister between her tears. She just didn't understand how Becky was managing to stay so calm. "It's NOT going to be okay! I'm so scared!!" she sobbed. "And what's with you anyway? Why are you so brave and calm all of the sudden, when here we are stuck in this puny cabin in the middle of nowhere, in the dark and ALL ALONE?!"
Becky bent down, took Marla's hand and looked her in the eye. "Because we're not all alone," she said softly.
The shaking girl gave her sister a puzzled look. "Wha-what do you mean?"
"Marla, I admit this is a pretty intense storm, and if we were all alone I would definitely be scared. But we have to remember, wherever we are, whatever's happening, we're not alone. God is right here with us. And not only that, He's taking good care of us."
Another thunder cracked, yet between her sister's word, and gentle strokes on her hand, Marla felt a bit less terrified.
"Remember when I used to be scared of my own shadow?" Becky asked. "Well once I started to remind myself that God is always with me, and to really feel that He's here, those fears just kind of began to fade away."
Marla slipped the quilt down off her head and sat up on the cot. Was the storm starting to let up, or was it just her imagination? "You mean to say that even when we're alone, we're not really alone."
"So then we really never have to be scared if we don't want to, do we?"
"No, we don't."
Marla took a deep breath and slowly stood up. She could hardly believe it herself, but what Becky said somehow felt right, and she really didn't feel so alone anymore, or so scared.
"And since God is always here," Becky went on, "you can talk to Him and ask for help."
"Easy, like this: 'God, we're a little scared here in this storm, especially in the dark. We know You're with us and protecting us, but could You also please turn the lights back on?'"
"Becky, do you think that's really gonna help? I mean maybe we should light some candles or try to..."
Just then the lights in the cabin flickered and went back on. The thunder was now only a dim rumble in the distance, and when the girls looked out the window they saw patches of sunlight breaking between the clouds.
"Looks like God decided to turn on the lights, and also move the storm away, huh?" said Becky cheerfully without a trace of surprise.
"Yeah," smiled Marla, shaking her head. "And I think from now on, thanks to what you said today, things are going to be a lot brighter for me, whatever the weather."
Q. How did Marla feel at first when the storm and blackout occurred?
A. She felt scared and alone.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She felt calm and unafraid because her sister had showed her that they really were never alone, because God was always watching over them.
Q. What lesson did Marla learn that day?
A. She, like many others, had the mistaken impression that while maybe God was 'somewhere out there,' He wasn't really so involved with us and watching over us every moment. Becky helped her see that God is EVERYWHERE - including with us - and He cares about and wants to help us through every moment of our lives without exception. This knowledge can dramatically improve our lives and make us much feel much less scared and alone.
Q. Is their anything we can do to help us feel more the reality of God being with us?
A. Absolutely. Like most things worthwhile, the ability to feel God in our lives takes practice. One good way is to observe and think about the amazing complexity and harmony of nature. Anyone who opens his eyes can't fail to see God's supreme intelligence behind every detail. Also, we can look back over our own lives and think back about all those 'coincidences' that really weren't coincidences at all, but rather God's help and guidance. And, like any relationship, the more we put into it the more we will get out. That means keeping up our end of the relationship by making a consistent effort to speak to and communicate with God. This doesn't mean only formal prayer, but also setting aside time to speak with him like we would with a wise and trusted friend, telling Him what is in our hearts and asking for guidance. After a while of doing these things, don't be surprised if you find yourself feeling closer to God than you ever imagined you could.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why doesn't God simply reveal Himself to us in a way we can feel His presence without trying?
A. God created the human being with the unique and awesome ability of free ethical choice - that is, the ability to act in a way that either strengthens and adds to the goodness of the world, or the opposite. The good we choose to do is so much more powerful and valuable that way than if we did it out of force. But free choice can only exist if we always have to struggle to feel and believe in God's presence, yet still choose to do the ethical and Godly thing. If He were to make Himself too obvious, we would get blown away by His power and awesomeness and become almost robot-like, and feel compelled to do His will.
Q. Our sages teach that the universe isn't the place of God; rather, God is the 'place' of the universe. What do you think this means?
A. A popular misconception is that like everything else, God is just one of the beings, albeit as the most powerful one, within the universe, who dwells in the heavens, perhaps somewhere deep in space, or alternatively He is thought of as a 'force' that permeates the universe which exists independent of Him. Both of these false pictures paint God as being a part of a larger universe of things. The reality, however, is that the entire universe and all its forces exist only 'within' God. He created the universe, gives it and everything in it life at every moment. He is thus, so to speak, the 'setting' or 'place' of the universe, both filling and surrounding it at all times. While these are deep concepts which require years of serious study to properly understand, the practical implication for us right now is to know that it is impossible to be far or separate from God and if we feel that way it is only because we have somehow closed our eyes to Him, and need only to reach out to Him to discover that He is and has always been right there with us.