Shela Lekha
For the week of June 25, 2005 / 18 Sivan 5765
Torah: Bemidbar/ Numbers 13:1 - 15:41
Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24

Avoiding Fear

If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them. (Bemidbar / Numbers 14:8,9)

Everyone experiences fear. Fear can be a good thing. It prevents us from being unnecessarily harmed. We often call this kind of fear, “healthy fear”. It is the kind of fear that keeps us from playing in traffic or from touching a hot stove.

So fear in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is designed as an early warning system to help protect us when danger is near. The problem with fear is that it doesn't know how to gauge reality. All it can do is bring us into a state of alarm, as it calls us to activate our natural defenses.

It is up to us, then, to determine those things which legitimately merit a fearful response and those things which do not. While it would be nice if we could only engage in healthy fear, I would guess that most of us from time to time are unnecessarily afraid.

How many opportunities in life have we missed due to unreasonable fear? The people of Israel in this week's Torah portion failed miserably because of fear. They had the opportunity to possess the Promised Land, but were too afraid. As a result they had to remain in the wilderness for another 38 years until that whole generation died out.

There are many life situations in which fear might be a reasonable reaction, if it weren't for others factors. Take riding in an elevator as an example. Imagine seeing a sky scraper for the first time. You stand on the sidewalk and are awestruck by this enormous structure that reaches beyond the clouds. You are then told that you will be going to the 102nd floor. You will be transported while crammed into a small room with about 20 other people, pulled by a metal chord. If you really thought about it, that's pretty scary, unless you also understood how elevators are made and that they have very thorough and well-tested safety systems.

Many things in life are like that. At some level we encounter danger constantly. The air contains deadly viruses that could kill us, except for the effectiveness of our immune systems. Fire and electricity can be very harmful, but if we handle them properly we have nothing to fear. The rise of terrorism in our day has threatened air travel. That is why our governments have raised the standard of security in our airports.

Avoiding fear is not about denying danger. It is putting danger into perspective. Entering the Promised Land was a dangerous proposition. Yet God, who had already proven himself to the people, said he would help them. That is why they had nothing to fear.

In order to avoid fear, we need to understand that we do not need to be controlled by it. For people who feel trapped by fear, that may be difficult to accept. Yet "do not fear" or words to that effect are found in the Bible over 80 times. To avoid fear, we must choose not to fear.

I want to point out as well that fear works differently in different people. For some, fear is a very noticeable emotion that might be felt in one's body in a variety of ways, whether it be an uneasy stomach, shaking hands or legs, shortness of breath, or a quickly beating heart. But fear can be present without any of these. Some people's fears keep them from ever considering anything too risky or frightening. Therefore they don't feel fear, even though they are very afraid of many things.

At some level many of our societies live in a constant state of fear. We have developed whole ways of living based on protecting ourselves from all sorts of perceived dangers. If we would realize how real God is and that we can do anything he calls us to do, I wonder what our lives would be like.

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