My three-year-old daughter, as many young children do, has recently developed many fears. She is afraid of going down the drain. She is fearful of the dark and the shadows that linger in her bedroom. She is wary of cars when we are crossing the street (this is a good one I know). None of these fears are abnormal and they are certainly developmentally appropriate, and I find myself trying to comfort her and allay these anxieties. I use the song by Mister Fred Rogers “You Can Never Go Down the Drain.” I help her to check her room for these dark monsters and show her that she is safe and secure and when this does not work, we use the “magical” tool we created to get rid of them. I have tried explaining that fears are nothing but a thought in her head, a statement that my dad would often use to reassure me of my anxieties. And while these tricks help momentarily, the fear and the thing that exists beneath the surface lingers and somehow finds its way back into her mind.
What interests me more than the fears is the fact that while she has started to experience these, she has simultaneously articulated her strong faith. My daughter has something that I am not quite sure that even her Rabbi of a mom always carries, which is the faith in her connection to a higher power, a divine source, and her relationship with God. As she states her fears she also states her faith in God, sharing that God is everywhere and is protecting her.
I have been thinking about this connection between fear and faith and wondered if there is a link to our tradition. In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we must confront a vengeful, fiery God whom we are commanded to revere, who has left so many of us perplexed and wounded over time. Moses boils the relationship down for us – in a nutshell, what God wants from us – in Deuteronomy 10:12:
And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the LORD your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and soul.
In my youth I was wary of such verses – how could I revere and fear God? How is this connected to developing a personal love for Torah, a love of our Tradition and for ultimately, divine connection? It was easier to avoid these moments altogether. However, the great Rabbis and sages of different generations confront and tackle these questions: The Or Hachayim, who was a commentator from Morocco in the 17th century, examined this verse and stated that the Torah is teaching us that the goal is not for us to fear God, but rather to love God, and the only way for us as humans to connect with that love is to start by revering Him (which includes an element of fear, along with respect and trust).
Is it true that the only way for us to have faith and love is also to hold an element of fear? As I processed and analyzed this further, I began to spiral and then realized I was doing exactly the opposite of what Beit T’Shuvah has taught me. I was reading the Torah using my binary thinking. I was “splitting” faith and fear, and not permitting the possibility that this, like so many other things in the world, is in fact a both/and model. And this Shabbat is a perfect example of both/and: while the torah verses we read talk about the fierceness of God, it is also one of the shabbats in the Jewish calendar that contains a theme – it is called Shabbat Mevrachim, translating as “the Shabbat that we bless.” It is on this Shabbat that we welcome Rosh Hodesh, the new month, and say:
May the Holy One renew it for us and all the people, the house of Israel, for life and peace [Amen], for gladness and for joy [Amen], for deliverance and for consolation; and let us say, Amen.
On a day that we chant a verse demanding us to revere or fear God, we are also obligated to hold onto the blessing of entering into something new with joy and with peace.
Our tradition is welcoming us to step into a complicated and beautiful relationship. One that can be difficult and harsh and one that is also open to love and comfort with peace. My hope and blessing for all of us is to develop a personal faith that contains the nuanced elements that we need and that is like my daughter’s – may our faith comfort us when we need it most.