A Bissel Torah – 04/23/2020

Everywhere I go, I use a mask, and gloves. I disinfect things as they come into my house. I cringe as I hear the numbers, of people infected with COVID-19, the number of deaths. I am living in fear right now. I believe that for many of us, fear is clouding our actions and decision-making process.

Judaism provides us with a few tools to deal with this feeling.

In our tradition, we recognize the feeling of fear and name it in our prayers.

We give voice to our fear even as we approach God in our most vulnerable moments.

In Hashkivenu, a blessing found in our evening liturgy, we ask God to protect us from things that “go bump in the night”. “Help us lie down in peace, our God, and wakes us up for life. Protect us, shield us from enemies and pestilence, starvation, sword and sorrow.”

Every night we are afraid of the darkness, we are afraid of the unknown, we are afraid of what can happen to us while we sleep – so we invoke God’s protection and peace for that moment. Without it, how can we sleep?

Sometimes fear is manifested through anxiety and worry. These feelings keep us rooted in one place, they don’t allow us to move forward.

How then do we progress beyond our worry and anxiety?

AJ Heschel taught:

“The beginning of faith is not a feeling for the mystery of living or a sense of awe, wonder or fear. The root of religion is the question what to do with the feeling for the mystery of living, what to do with awe, wonder or fear.”

In other words, we are afraid right now. We recognize the feeling.

Yet, just like Heschel taught, we have to recognize our feelings and learn what to do with them. The lesson I have learned from this crisis is that fear, anxiety, and worry only happen when I am trying to control the future instead of living in the present moment. I realized that those feelings don’t creep up when I am completely present at the moment, doing what I am doing, fully engaged in whatever activity I am doing. The feeling of presence connects me with God’s presence in this earth, and allows me to recognize my feelings, naming them, and dealing with them. I used to plan for whatever was coming next while performing my daily activities. I have realized that I am not consumed by fear and I feel much more centered because I am concentrating in whatever it is I am doing instead of  planning my next steps.

Our tradition helps us deal with our fears by naming them, and asking God to protect us when things that are out of our control happen in our lives. I suggest that you create your own personal Hashkivenu. Mine is: God, help me be centered and present in the moment. Protect me, my family, and the whole world from danger, from illness, and from unknown threats. Help me recognize my feelings and move through life fully engaged in my activities.

 What will be your daily prayer? May we live life finding good answers for what to do with our feelings for the mystery of living, and achieving productive ways to use our awe, wonder, and fear – all the feelings that can be awakened by our faith, and our gratitude to the Divine for this world.  

Rabbi Lia Bass

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