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Parshas Eikev (5768)

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear (of G-d) Itself

It's a scary world out there, isn't it? There is so much for us and our kids to be afraid of these days. Just watching the news on televison any night can get us worrying about hurricanes, dirty bombs, tornadoes, earthquakes (the experts say we should expect "the biggie" in California any time now), terror attacks (the next 9/11), avian bird flu outbreaks, suicide bombings, tsunamis, anthrax, serial killers on the loose, peanuts (if you're allergic), AIDS, global warming, nuclear war, propane tank explosions (this just happened in Canada) ... and the list goes on and on. Makes you wonder how anyone can stay sane and not go completely meshuga from all the stuff that the media loves to scare us with.

Now I don't really have an easy cure for all this fear and worry that plagues us daily ... but I believe that we can start controlling these fears if we can integrate into our lives a very powerful lesson from this week's Torah portion.

In Deuteronomy 10:12, Moses tells the Jewish people: "Now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear the Lord, your G-d, to go in all His ways and to love Him ..."

The Talmud in Megillah 25a asks the question: Is "fear of G-d" such an easy thing to acquire? (seeing that Moses prefaces G-d's request of us to fear Him with the words "What does G-d ask? ... only to fear Him" - as if it's a small request to make when in reality it is quite difficult.)

Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, in his commentary Ruach Chaim on Ethics of our Fathers, suggests an original interpretation of Moses' enigmatic words which explains how indeed fear of G-d is quite easy for us to attain.

He writes that it is the nature of human beings who don't believe in Divine Providence to fear all types of fears such as the ones mentioned above - especially since all these events can "randomly" occur at any time without rhyme or reason. However, if we choose to believe in G-d as Creator and Controller of the universe and all that occurs within it, then the only thing we have to fear is G-d Himself, since all those individual threats and catastrophes are under His collective control ... and then life becomes a whole lot easier to manage.

This then is the powerful message that Moses is delivering to the Jewish people in the name of G-d: All G-d is asking from you is to fear Him alone - which is indeed a whole lot easier than having to fear every single danger that threatens our lives.

Of course, just because we fear G-d alone instead of fearing all those other things, this doesn't guarantee that those bad things won't actually happen to us at some point in our lives. After all, sometimes we need a little "shakeup" in our lives in order to remind us either individually or as a nation as to our spiritual purpose here on earth which we often forget.

But even so we have nothing to fear since we are still in G-d's hands even as calamities befall us - as is illustrated beautifully in this week's Haftarah reading from the Book of Isaiah - and G-d who is our "Father in Heaven" truly knows what's best for us.

The Haftarah begins with the Jewish people's lament that the exile proves that G-d has abandoned her: "And Zion said, 'G-d has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.'" To which G-d responds: "Can a woman forget her nursling, withdraw from feeling compassion for the child of her womb? Even were these to forget, yet I will never forget you. Behold! I have engraved you on [My] palms; your ruined [walls] are before Me continuously." (Isaiah 49:15-16).

The Malbim explains that G-d's "palms" mentioned in the verse refer to His actions here on earth which are all part of His ultimate game plan for us and all of humanity. So that the import of G-d's response to the Jewish people, who thought that He abandoned them when He sent them into exile, is to say, "You think I forgot about you when I sent you out of the Land of Israel? On the contrary, I had your names engraved on my palm and was thinking about you the whole time even as I was letting those bad things happen to you! As your Father in Heaven, I needed to give you the potch you truly deserved, but don't think for a moment that I forgot my love for you as My children!!!"

The period following the saddest day of the year, Tishah B'Av - when so many catastrophes befell the Jewish people in our long and difficult history - is traditionally know as a time of Nechamah (comfort and consolation), and in our times we can certainly use a little consolation and respite from all the (potential) tragedies and disasters that are a constant part of our lives.

Let's hope that we can strengthen ourselves in our fear of G-d and in our recognition of G-d's ultimate control of nature and history - so that we can eliminate all those other debilitating fears and get on with our real purpose in life.

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