“If you approach the mountain in fear, it will look bigger than it actually is.” – Tene Edwards
This week’s Parsha, Ki Tissa (Exodus 30:11–34:35), is one of the Torah’s greatest hits. Moses is on Mount Sinai, preparing to receive the original Ten Commandments. He has been gone longer than the Israelites expected. They are growing restless and worried. A surefire recipe for “oy vey” actions. With faith quickly succumbing to fear, the Israelites set to work constructing the most infamous of idols: The Golden Calf. Just as construction ends and worship begins, Moses arrives on the scene with God’s one and only handwritten work. Yes, there will be another. But never quite the same. Angered and dismayed, Moses smashes God’s tablets. Chaos ensues. Accompanied by many negotiations between Moses and God on the fate of the Israelites and God’s relationship with them. Spoiler alert: The Parsha ends with a covenant. But it is hard earned.
Replete with cautionary tales on the devastating consequences of succumbing to both anger and fear, Ki Tissa is yet another example of the Torah’s ability to offer up relatable and timeless guidance on navigating difficult emotions in the midst of life’s most trying challenges. Out of fear, we undermine ourselves in pivotal moments when breakthrough is at our door, when the answers are coming down the mountain. Fear not only makes us vulnerable to misled actions, it also diminishes the impact of right actions. The Talmud teaches that even mitzvot performed from a place of fear are not as powerful as those performed from a place of love (Sota: 31a).
Fear shows up when we least expect it. It keeps us up at night. It turns harmless obstacles into impossible challenges. It is the great incapacitator and the motivator of self-destructive action. My personal relationship with fear is multifaceted. I would imagine that is true for most people. It creeps into my life on sunny days in particular. I blame this partially on my Russian grandmother’s adage that succinctly and depressingly summed up her philosophy on life: “laugh before breakfast, cry before dinner.” Things are going well for you right now? Not to worry, it won’t last for long. Thanks, Bubbe.
Thankfully, the Torah does not merely offer up cautionary tales, it also provides us with solutions. Fear is an indication that faith is missing. How do we solve this? By deepening our connection to God. Today, faith is often seen as something that distorts our view of reality. I believe that our modern conception of faith needs to be redefined from something that blindly guides us, to something that helps us to see more clearly.
This Shabbat, I invite you to reflect on how fear shows up in your life. Does it hold you back or stand in your way? What would it feel like to allow love and faith to take its place? Even just a little bit. Try it. I’d love to hear how it goes.
Camp Haverim Director
Image credit: The Golden Calf by Ovadia Keidar