Rabbi's Weekly Message

A Message from Rabbi Peltz ~ Thursday, March 15

What are you afraid of? The dark? Snakes? Or perhaps you are afraid of something more serious, like terrorism, gun violence, or that you are not able to provide for your family, or leave a meaningful legacy in this world. Fear is a powerful emotion, and it often is an irrational emotion, as we see in our parashah this week. In Ki Tissa, we read the story of the Golden Calf. The Israelites have just witnessed miracles which got them out of Egypt, they have seen God's presence on Mount Sinai and received the 10 Commandments, and they have begun to build the mishkan, the tabernacle that will keep God's presence with them into the future. Then Moshe goes up the mountain, and the days tick by, then the weeks, then it is over a month. The people get scared. They fear that they are without their leader, alone in the wilderness. So they turn to Aaron, and demand, "Come, make us a god who shall go before us!" With no protest, Aaron fashions them a golden god - a calf that will take the place of Moshe. It doesn't make sense, it's not rational, but it's real. With the absence of their leader, even temporarily, fear takes control, and compels them to forget the miracles that were performed for them, the lessons that they've learned, the promises that they had made. We know how the story ends: Moshe and God are not happy about this golden calf and it is destroyed, and the people are punished. However the memory of their fear, and what it compelled them to build, remains with us today.

There is much for us to worry about today. We live in a time of resurgent Anti-Semitism, political paralysis, and selfishness. And everything feels like it is changing so fast. In his new book, Thomas Friedman calls out time the "age of accelerations." We fear that we will be unable to keep up with changing technology, changing climate, changing demographics, and changing industries. Fear is a part of living, and perhaps this is why more than 80 times in the Bible God tells people not to be afraid. Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his book Conquering Fear, goes so far as to declare that the 11th commandment ought to be "Don't be afraid." He writes, "God commands us not to be afraid, not because there is nothing to fear but precisely because the world can be such a frightening place, and God realizes that we can never fulfill our potential as human beings if we are paralyzed by fear...Don't be afraid of being afraid. Our goal should never be the denial of fear but the mastery of fear, the refusal to let fear keep us from living fully and happily." The Israelites were not able to do this. They built a golden calf because they were unable to master their fears. This led to disaster, but it left us with an important lesson: our fears cannot be allowed to dictate our actions, they cannot cause us to worship golden gods who promise to make all our fears go away. This is fantasy, and a recipe for disaster. Rather, it is up to each of us to hear God's call to not be afraid of being afraid, to master our fears, and to live life with confidence, purpose and meaning.