Friday, 7 August, 2020 - 11:40 am

A little boy was afraid of the dark. One night his mother told him to go out to the back porch and bring her the broom.

The little boy turned to his mother and said, "Mama, I don't want to go out there. It's dark."

The mother smiled reassuringly at her son. "You don't have to be afraid of the dark," she explained. "G-d is out there. He'll look after you and protect you."

The little boy looked at his mother real hard and asked, "Are you sure he's out there?"

"Yes, I'm sure. He is everywhere, and he is always ready to help you when you need him," she said.

The little boy thought about that for a minute and then went to the back door and cracked it a little. Peering out into the darkness, he called, "G-d? If you're out there, would you please hand me the broom?"

In this week's Torah portion Eikev speaks how the Jewish people are standing at the Eastern side of the Jordan River. They are poised to enter the Promised Land.

Their faithful leader, Moses, speaks to them. These are his words: Hear, O Israel! Today, you are crossing the Jordan to come in to possess nations greater and stronger than you, great cities, fortified up to the heavens. A colossal and towering nation, the children of the giants, whom you know and of whom you have heard said, "Who can stand against the children of the giants?!"

This is mind-staggering. Moses is repeating, almost verbatim, the words the ten spies uttered 39 years earlier which caused an unparalleled catastrophe, and derailed Jewish history from its course.

Why the need to scare the living daylights out of the Jews? Why risk generating such panic and distress which may result, once again, in the Jews saying, “We are not going?!”

The Rebbe presented the most powerful explanation.

The power of Judaism: it is all about truth.

 “Moses is true and his Torah is true,” So when Moses wants to prepare his people to enter the land, he will not paint a glowing fictional picture, and mislead them about the truth. Rather, he will tell it to them as is.

Do not delude yourself. The mission you face is tough, rough, and dangerous. It will not be easy. You will face deep resistance. You might wish to retreat.

Yet, Moses continues: “You shall know on this day that it is the Lord your G-d Who passes over before you, as a consuming fire... He will subdue them before you…” This is a tall order, Moses is saying. But G-d is with you. He will lead the way. Thus, despite all the odds, you will triumph.

When the Jewish people heard this message, they felt far more empowered and invigorated. They knew what they are facing; they knew what to expect. They can embrace their destiny with a clear mind, a sober heart, and absolute honesty.

Moses’ way of dealing with the debacle of the spies was not by denying reality and selling them a fictional narrative that would explode in their faces. That would have accomplished nothing. Moses’ message was the exact opposite. We have all heard that “nobody can stand up before these giants.” Yes, we can surrender to fear—that would be human and normal. The spies did just that. But, here is what I am telling you. Your task is formidable, but the one leading the way is yet more formidable. You can do it, not because it is not hard, but because you are a people who can achieve extraordinary tasks; you are a people who can take grueling goals; you can accomplish what may seem like the impossible, for G-d—the creator of the possible and the impossible—is right here with you!

With this Moses not only earned credibility, but also showed them their true power and strength. He taught them who they were and what they were capable of. He brought out the fire in them!

What a powerful lesson in life.

Each of us has our own “promised land” to conquer: Our dreams, visions, and goals. We each have our “river” to cross en route to discovering our ultimate destiny and happiness. The obstacles, though, are often formidable.

Sometimes, our friends, therapists, and self-help books will tell us: the resistance is unreal; the roadblocks are in your mind; the fears are delusional, the apprehension is unjustified.

Moses tells us here a very different message. Sometimes, the task ahead of you is hard; very hard. But who said you aren’t capable of achieving daunting tasks? If you can only realize G-d is with you, then you will stare the bull in the eyes, and say: Yes, this is scary and unnerving, but I am ready to take it on. For I know that G-d is firing the shots and I am just holding on tightly to Him.

Imagine you are about to embark on a hike. The guide, in order to ease your apprehension, tells you, “this is an easy hike; it is no big deal.” But when you embark on the hike, you find yourself on a steady, deep incline for miles, on rocky terrain, in a smoldering heat. Not only do you stop trusting him, but you also feel demoralized and sapped from your vitality.

But what if he tells you, “This is a tough and grueling hike; the terrain at times can be torturous; but I promise you, you can do it. I will help you; I have water for you, and I will be here with you. There is also wildlife out here, but I’ve got 30 years of experience. And when you do it, your body and mind will be forever grateful to you, and you will discover what you are capable of.” Now, he earned your trust, he allowed you to be fully present in reality and cognizant of what you are entering into, and more importantly, he helped you identify your true inner resources of resolve and courage. And when you will discover the hardship, you will not have to flee in fear, because you expected it and prepared for it.

Scott Peck opened his book “The Road Less Traveled,” with these words: “Life is difficult.”

And he explains: This is a great truth, it is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

When we delude ourselves it is not difficult, then most of our life we are busy with either trying to suppress the feeling that it is so difficult or feeling guilty about that feeling. Neither allows us the freedom to pursue our values and life’s goals. We are too busy arguing with ourselves, trying to convince ourselves that they are not difficult and we should not take it to heart. But if we can allow for the feeling that “yes, it is pretty tough and challenging,” this hike is really grueling, then we can actually embrace it with a certain sense of purpose and joy.

This is true in so many areas of life. Take dieting. Some people tell themselves, “I don’t really want all those carbs and sugar.” Good luck! At some point, you will see that you do want them (especially when standing at the smorgasbord of the bar mitzvah), and your diet collapses. Better to say the truth: I want it; I love it. I am crazy about it. Yet, I can still say no. I can find a way to stand up to those cravings. I am stronger than they are, for G-d is stronger than they are.

They are powerful, but I am more powerful.

The Tanya quotes the words of Rabbi Isaac Luria in Eitz Chaim, “this world is full of husks and lies, and evil prospers there.” This is not to create pessimism, but rather to empower. When you can understand what the world is, when you fully accept it, you can really transcend it.

Rabbi Zev Segal, president of the Rabbinical Council of America and Rabbi of Young Israel in Newark, was a renowned Jewish activist. On one occasion, the Rebbe found out that Rabbi Segal was traveling to "a certain country" and asked him to undertake a "very difficult assignment." Segal agreed and got the job done.  When he arrived back in the United States, Segal was granted a private audience with the Rebbe.

"I said that the Rebbe should know that it was not an easy task," Segal recalled.

The Rebbe responded: "Since when did you make a contract with G-d for an easy life?"

Rabbi Segal said that line stuck with him for life and provided a lesson in how he should approach responsibilities and challenges.

There is an old story about a criminal who had committed a capital crime.

He was sent to the king for his punishment.

The king told him he had a choice of two punishments. He could be hung by a rope.

Or take what’s behind the big, awesome, dark, scary, iron door.

The criminal decided on the rope.

As the noose was being slipped on him, he turned to the king and asked: “By the way, out of curiosity, what’s behind that door?”

The king said: “You know, it’s funny, I offer every criminal the same choice, and nearly everyone picks the rope.”

“So,” said the criminal, “Tell me. What’s behind the door? I mean, obviously, I won’t tell anyone,” he said, pointing to the noose around his neck.

The king paused then answered: “Freedom, but it seems most people are so afraid of the unknown that they immediately take the rope.”

Alan Watts said it well: “Our lives are one long effort to resist the unknown.”

There are many unknowns in life, some of them are scary. But we have the tools to take the road less traveled, into our Promised Land.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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