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ב"ה

ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE UNKNOWN?

Thursday, 29 July, 2021 - 11:59 pm

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?"


The Jewish people are standing at the Eastern side of the Jordan River, directly across from Jericho. They are poised to enter the Promised Land.


The journey has been long and arduous. It lasted forty years. It wasn’t planned this way. The Israelites were destined to settle their land shortly after their Egyptian Exodus. But then Moses sent spies to scout the country, and when they returned they struck fear and terror into the hearts of the people, describing how mighty and fearful the inhabitation nations were.


The terrifying report about the strength of the enemy hit the mark. The Jewish people lost their morale. They ducked in fear and proclaimed their yearning to return to Egypt. G-d said, they would indeed not enter the land. Their fear would cause their defeat. They would remain in the wilderness for four decades and their children, those younger than 20 at the time and all those to be born in the future, would enter the land.


At last, the moment has arrived. It is a few days or weeks before Moses’ passing. Shortly, they would cross the Jordan and settle their Promised Land.

At this fateful moment, Moses, their long-time leader and shepherd, speaks to the nation. This is what he says to them, in this week’s portion, Eikev:

Hear, O Israel: Today, you are crossing  the Jordan come in to possess to nations greater and stronger than you, great cities, fortified up to the heavens.

 

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


Moses, the faithful shepherd of Israel, the man who was most devastated by the sin of the spies, do you not remember what happened last time around when someone stood up and described the mighty nations, the fortified cities, the sons of the giants?! Do you not recall how the entire nation surrendered to paralysis, faithlessness, hopelessness, and despondency?


Moses, in a way, speaks far more emphatically than the spies: “Hear, O Israel: Today, you are crossing the Jordan to come in to possess nations greater and stronger than you.

The Rebbe presented a powerful explanation.


It is here that we see the power of Judaism: it is all about truth.


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. “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.”


When you inspire people based on exaggerations or suppression of facts, you may score short term benefits, but at some point, you will lose credibility. When they discover the truth, they might back off. Moses needed the people to know the full truth. You are confronting “a colossal and towering nation, the children of the giants, whom you know and of whom you have heard said, ‘Who can stand up against the children of the giants?!”


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 could now enter into the mission with their entire being, with their full self, informed, and aware. They can embrace their destiny with a clear mind, a sober heart, and absolute honesty.


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 “Jordan river” to cross en route to discover our ultimate destiny and happiness. The obstacles, though, are often formidable.


Sometimes, there is truth to this, and it is a productive approach. But not always. Because when we convince ourselves that something it is not hard, then when the hardships attack us, we often become overwhelmed, and we surrender to despair.  


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.


Fixing my marriage, or my relationships with my siblings, parents, children, in-laws, may seem torturous. I am asked to do things that generate deep resistance from many emotions inside of me screaming, “you can’t!” “Never!”


Imagine you are about to embark on a hike. The guide, in order to easy 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, 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 wild life 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 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 one of the greatest truths. 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. 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 for 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 the 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 (1917-2008), longtime president of the Rabbinical Council of America and Rabbi of Young Israel in Newark, was a renowned Jewish activist, who worked relentlessly for Jewish individuals and communities across the globe. He was  a passionate Jew who traveled extensively for Jewish causes.

On one occasion, the Lubavitcher Rebbe found out that Rabbi Segal was traveling to Communist Russia 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 the master of the world for an easy life?"


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


All great leaders took this cue from Moses. You don’t inspire real courage, loyalty and confidence by denying the frightening facts. Because if that is your tactic, when the lid is blown off your cover-ups, your people will desert you. You would have lost their credibility.


Rather, you inspire strength and determination by telling people the entire truth, and then showing them how they have the tools to confront and conquer the challenge. Then, you have earned their trust.


In the spring of 1940, Hitler was taking Europe by storm. Germany had taken Poland and had invaded Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, whereupon Chamberlain resigned in Britain. The Soviet Union was still at peace with Germany. Roosevelt did not want to get involved in the war. In all of Europe, one man stood up to Nazi Germany.


Winston Churchill, in his first speech as Prime Minister of Great Britain, given on May 13, 1940, said this:

“I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.


“You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that G-d can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalog of human crime. That is our policy…”


“An ordeal of the most grievous kind”! This was almost exactly what Moses said to the people of Israel.


With these words, he revitalized a nation, and gave them the confidence and resolve they needed for the next five years to defeat the greatest tyrant and monster in human history. Had Churchill sugar-coated the challenge ahead, he would have weakened their spirit, dulled their strength, snuffed out their soul and drained their vitality. By sharing with them the truth and nothing but the truth about the evil they faced, he not only earned their trust and respect, but also brought out their true inner power and resolve.


Seven years later, Menachem Begin used the radio to share the following words to the people of Israel, preparing them for an Arab attack, on May 14, 1948:

"We shall go our way into battle… And we shall be accompanied by the spirit of millions of our martyrs, our ancestors tortured and burned for their faith, our murdered fathers and butchered mothers, our murdered brothers and strangled children.


“And in this battle we shall break the enemy and bring salvation to our people, tried in the furnace of persecution, thirsting only for freedom, for righteousness, and for justice."

This is how leaders inspire their troops—based on how Moses inspired his. He did not promise them an easy ride; he told them exactly what’s coming—and he gave them the confidence, resolve, and inspiration to take in with full grace, courage and unwavering determination.


There is 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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