Right now, everything seems higher stakes because any decision might spread disease and potentially lead to a death. I worry about Kol Emeth and fear my decisions about opening might irreparably damage our community. I usually coach myself to remember that the worst rarely if ever happens. And yet, right now, we are living in a worst case scenario.
My normal tendency, confronted with such fears and worries that are both within and outside my control, is to hide. Better to think of other things, to keep my head down and do my work day to day. And while there is value in counting my blessings and putting one foot in front of the other, the feelings and the worries remain and become potentially damaging to me and others if I do not address them.
The Israelites faced such a moment when they sent the spies to look at the land of Israel. Those spies, men of renown, go into the land to see what is there. To them, the inhabitants of the land seem like giants while they seem like grasshoppers. Their fear distorts their vision so that the problems and challenges seem beyond their reach.
When they return to the Israelites to report, they hide from the fear and attack Moses. They say, “The land is a place that eats its inhabitants. We cannot overcome it.” Rather than talking to Moses of their concerns and fears, they spread rumors. Finally, they turn their energy against Moses, saying, “Why did he bring us here to die in the desert?”
I totally understand their fears. Every challenge seemed too big for them. How could they, a generation of slaves, expect to conquer all the Canaanites? They had no military training; they did not know strategy or tactics. And so in the face of their fears, they lashed out at Moses and gave up their chance to enter the promised land.
I too feel overwhelmed. How can I comfort a mourner when I’m not supposed to go to their house? How can we have High Holidays in this new normal? I wasn’t trained to stream video or make high quality productions. I never imagined parenting my children in the middle of a quarantine. What am I even supposed to do?
Yet Caleb and Joshua find another answer. They too see the might of the Canaanites, but they react differently. They lean into their fears. They counsel the people: We can do this because God is with us. And so they alone of all that generation enter the promised land.
We too can lean into our fears and worries. Yes, Covid has magnified many worries and caused some of the things we fear most to materialize. And it’s scary and unsettling. But we are not alone in this. God who redeems is with us, to strengthen our hands and guide our legs.
When I forget to lean into that fear, to remember why I am afraid, I become stressed, irritable, and I sleep poorly. By contrast, when I own the fear and remember that I am afraid because of love and care and faith, then I am miraculously strengthened. That fear no longer rules me and hope enters my heart. I sleep better, I am more pleasant to be around and I make decisions that help me better be a source of blessing in the world.
I don’t want to be afraid. I want to wish all of this away. But I invite you to stand with me in leaning into our fears, in holding onto those whom we love, and finding a new path of blessing. I am afraid and I don’t know what to do. And God is with me to help me find a way.
Rabbi David Booth