F.D.R. and Fear
Of the many High Holy Day prayers that unfortunately receive short shift, there is one that begins with the words: And therefore L-rd our G-d, place Your fear over all that You have created.
Imagine that! Asking G-d to implant fear! As a rabbi, my theology has been that as humans, we relate to HaShem in terms of awe and reverence, at best. To fear a benevolent, loving G-d, as far as I’m concerned, is a contradiction in terms!
Perhaps the fear we pray for, is a fear that is in no way connected to how we relate with HaShem. This past Saturday night and Sunday morning, we hosted Dr. Yitzchak Brook, a most remarkable speaker for our yearly Selichot service. For his first presentation, Dr. Yitzchak Brook spoke of his role as a doctor on the battlefield during the Yom Kippur War; the next morning he spoke of how being diagnosed with throat cancer over a decade ago impacted upon his life. Common to both presentations, was that fear ought not to looked upon as a negative emotion. Fear is part of life.
Unless it is a paralyzing fear, we ought to realize that there is nothing wrong in being afraid. We fear for our children; we fear for our spouses; we fear for ourselves. Fear does not make us any less of a person, nor should it threaten our self-image. What’s important and even necessary is that we understand our fear. Unfortunately, many who fear make matters worse through self-castigation. Sadly, there are so many individuals in this world who are either angry at themselves for being afraid or genuinely fear being afraid. They ought not to. To fear is human. How then can fear be vied negatively?
Fear can be a great motivator. I may be showing my age, but back in the day, fear of punishment from parents was probably the best way to ensure that a child towed the line. Similarly, fear of a speeding ticket with the concomitant increase in insurance rates is probably the best way to ensure that motorists adhere to the posted speed limit. Fear of failing a course often serves as the necessary impetus to “hit the books”. Fear of missing an appointment or a flight hopefully guarantees that one arrives earlier than one normally would.
Two years from now marks the two hundredth birthday of Rabbi Meshullam Zusha of Annipol. Most of us know him merely as Reb Zusha. Of the many stories handed down to us about Reb Zusha, it is the “fear story” that is remembered best. As his life was drawing to a close, Reb Zusha was in bed crying. “I’m afraid”, he confided to those who stood around his death bed. Realizing that those present would in all likelihood misunderstand his fear, Reb Zusha explained:
“I am not afraid of being asked by my maker why I was not like Moses; I am afraid of being asked by my maker, why I was not Zusha. I am afraid of being questioned why I didn’t live up to my potential. And therefore L-rd our G-d, place Your fear over all you have created so that perhaps at least some of us will be motivated to live up to our potential.”
It was Franklin D. Roosevelt, the thirty-second president of the United States who lectured us that “there is nothing to fear but fear itself. It’s quite evident that F.D.R. hadn’t read the High Holy Day Prayers. It’s open to speculation whether F.D.R. would have understood these prayers, even after reading them.