A RECENT TORAH portion tells the story of Moses sending scouts from each of the 12 tribes into the Promised Land, as God had instructed.
He urged them “to be of good courage and bring the fruit of the land (Numbers 13:30). After 40 days, they returned.
Ten of the scouts reported how strong the people were in Canaan and that “we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (13:33).
These words spread fear within the community, and they began complaining, saying it would be better to return to Egypt than to risk certain death in this new land.
However, two of the scouts, Joshua and Caleb, praised the land as one of milk and honey and extolled the people not to fear, that God would be with them.
Fear can lead us to assume the worst is going to happen in our lives. We often refrain from pursuing our dreams because we are afraid of failure or simply the unknown. To venture beyond the familiar feels dangerous.
Rabbi Ted Falcon, in comparing the spies sent into Canaan with facing our own fears, says: “We send out our own scouts. We explore our yearnings in consciousness — imagining, daydreaming, trying different realities on.
“Like the scouts of this story, we, too, often withdraw from those imaginings disheartened, feeling like the territory we yearn for is simply too much for us. And we can always back up our doubts with an unending list of objections supporting the fear that has arisen.”
When some people feel powerless to face their own personal fears, it becomes more comfortable to project those fears on the “giants in Cannan,” scapegoating those they don’t understand as being the real danger.
Fear of “the stranger” has had horrific results throughout history, and it continues today. Attacks on people because they are different, whether it is race, religion, gender or social status, are almost always based on fear and lies.
The Holocaust shows the worst that can happen when “the other” is demonized. Abraham Joshua Heschel, a revered Jewish rabbi and activist, said that when we establish a way of life predicated upon a lie, “the world can turn into a nightmare.”
He points out that the Holocaust did not emerge suddenly. “It was in the making for several generations. It had its origin in a lie: that the Jew was responsible for all social ills, for all personal frustrations. Decimate the Jews and all problems would be solved.”
Today, we hear the same rhetoric mounting everywhere. Simply remove the word “Jew” and fill in the blank with another group.
The white nationalist ideology now rising in the world shows that the lie that created the Holocaust has not disappeared. Fear drives this rhetoric.
As Gandhi said, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.”
Both in our approach to the stranger and in the living of our lives to the fullest, we must not let fear define our actions.
The next time you find yourself worrying about or blaming the “other,” look instead to yourself and ask, “What in my own journey do I fear? And how can I let God lead me?”
We must trust in God and in ourselves, allowing hope and faith to overcome our fears.
Lest our fears threaten to stop us, remember the words of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid, not to be afraid at all.”
Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community.