Torah Fax
Friday, May 19, 2006 - 21 Iyar, 5766

Torah Reading: Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1 - 27:34)
Candle Lighting Time: 7:52 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:59 PM
Pirkei Avot: Chapter 5
Shabbat Chazzak
Shabbat is 37 days of the Omer
Fear in the Family
One of the most difficult readings of the Torah can be found in this week's Parshah; it is known as the Tocha'cha - harsh words of rebuke. In addition, these words of rebuke are also characterized by the Torah as curses. But Torah is the source of all good and blessing. Indeed, the Talmud explains that the reason the Torah begins with the letter bet is because it is the initial of the word beracha, which means blessing. This opening letter sets the tone for the entire Torah.
This raises the obvious question: How do we understand the Torah's use of dire threats and horrible curses if Torah epitomizes blessings?
One of the answers to this question lies in the understanding that the curses, from the vantage point of the Torah, are challenges to us. It is as if the Torah commands us: "Take these curses and convert them into blessings!" But in order to transform a curse, one must know what they are, and where they come from.
A cursory survey of the dire threats delineated in this week's Parshah yields a clear conclusion: fear from real and imaginary threats are the most frightening prospects for our people. Fears  often derive from suffering, persecution or famine but, arguably, the most extreme form of fear is outlined in the following verse:
"And those who hate you shall rule over you; and you shall flee when none pursue you." Today we can see how this curse has come true. There is a penchant, to the point of obsession, that many have, induced and exacerbated to a certain extent by the media, to search for and exaggerate the threats to our well-being. Whether it is the fear of meteors, UFO's, or even more realistic issues like Mad Cow disease and nuclear proliferation, our society has been conditioned to constantly worry about both real and imaginary threats. 
To be sure, there is a need to be aware of certain dangers that lurk in our midst so that we can take action to prevent these situations from degenerating into a real catastrophe. But in this "information age," when we are bombarded hourly with every tragedy and threat from around the world, it is a major challenge to sort out the genuine threats from the trivial ones. 
It is bad enough to be petrified when being pursued by those who wish us harm, but why do we flee in terror when no one is really pursuing us?
To answer this question it is important to trace the emotion of fear to its roots in our G‑dly soul. Only then can we discover a means how to tap into the incredible energy inherent in the emotion of fear.
There are two ways one can approach phobias: The first is to demonstrate to ourselves that certain phobias are without foundation, and the second is to actually confront them. For example, if one is afraid of flying, one can take a course and learn how flying is actually safer than driving, one is less likely to be hit by lightning in the air than on the ground etc. In the end of the course, the instructor can actually take the members of the course on a short flight and (in many cases) people can graduate from their fear of flying entirely.
In truth, Jewish mystical literature teaches us that there is a third approach to treating fear and anxiety that involves recognizing the harmless source of that fear and attempting to express it in the way it was intended.
To explain: Our G‑dly soul possesses two paradoxical forces. One part of the G‑dly soul longs to return to its maker. It is consumed with love of G‑d because it is a part of the Divine and because it senses and appreciates the love and closeness of G‑d towards us. This love and passion is the root and generator of love that we experience in our physical lives as well.
But there is another part of the G‑dly soul that senses the awesome majesty of the Divine that imbues the soul with a sense of great reverence. This exclusively spiritual experience that is natural to the Divine soul within us, known in Hebrew as yirah, is a distant cousin of fear, or, more precisely, is its ancestor.
Fear is an emotion that makes us recognize our vulnerability. Faced with fear, even the greatest and toughest among us will cower. As stated, this emotion of fear is rooted in the soul's profound humility and self-abnegation that is borne out of an acute awareness of the infinite and transcendent nature of the A-mighty G‑d.
When the soul becomes garbed within a physical body, the sublime spiritual feelings are strongly tempered and made much more down-to-earth. Thus the soul's state of utter self-abnegation and profound reverence can evolve and degenerate into a state of fear and dread for real and even imaginary threats.
When a person is overcome with inordinate fear or anxiety, in addition to seeking professional help, it is helpful to reflect on the source  of that fear and realize that it originates in the soul and at its root it is a positive and holy emotion.
When we take our fears and recognize that they are, in essence, expressions of reverence for G‑d, and when we couple that realization with behaviors consonant with it, that will remove those elements of our nature that distort the pristine emotion of the soul, which produce the painful and debilitating feelings of fear.
The "curses" that we read in this week's Parshah are associated with exile. With the advent of the coming of Moshiach, the fear and anxiety that plagues our society will be removed. As our prophets told us, the Messianic Age we will be filled exclusively with a healthy awe and awareness of G‑d.
Moshiach Matters
“Then all of the forest will sing joyously.” (Psalm 96:12) Rashi explains that the trees of the forest symbolize the monarchs of the gentile nations. With their strength and erect bearing, they resemble towering trees. They, too, are destined to recognize the sovereignty of Moshiach, and they shall rejoice when he arrives.
Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit
© 2001- 2006 Chabad of the West Side