April 2, 2020


4.3.2020 Weekly Torah Portion

Kol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar me’od.  V’ha-ikar: lo y’faheid klal.

The whole world is a very narrow bridge.  And the most important thing: do not be at all afraid.

Likutei Moharan, Part II, 48:2 (Sefaria)

In the past few weeks, and especially in the past few days, I have seen many of my friends and colleagues share these words of teaching from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.  With every passing day the world becomes an even narrower bridge, dangerous in every direction, with only one real option: keep moving forward.  How can we possibly not be afraid?  Isn’t fear the most human, the most sensible, response at a time like this?

Last week I was speaking with my sponsor, and as we always do, we started our session with a check-in: How are you?  As a recovering codependent, this question is often a challenge for me to answer.  What is it that I’m really feeling?  I told her: I’m feeling gratitude to be alive… surprise because each new day brings some sort of news or change that I don’t expect… and fear, for myself, my family, and my community, that I or someone I love will be in grave danger.

In that moment, fear was one thing I was sure I felt.  But as my sponsor and I unpacked this feeling, I began to understand that fear – like every emotion – isn’t simply “good” or “bad.”  If my fear leads me to ruminate, obsess, and catastrophize, to become stressed and agitated and start acting out towards those around me, then my fear is unhelpful, and even destructive.  This is the type of fear that Rebbe Nachman is imploring us to avoid.

Yet if my fear leads me to be careful: to learn how far away six feet actually is and to keep a safe distance from others, to carry hand sanitizer with me and remember to use it, to disinfect tables and countertops and doorknobs and keyboards and phones, to be mindful about touching my face, and of course, to wash my hands – then my fear may actually be helpful.  It helps me protect myself: it inspires me toward self-care, a type of self-love.  And it helps me protect others: it inspires me to be of service; it inspires me towards selfless action.

This teaching from Rebbe Nachman is part of his great collection Likutei Moharan, and as we read it in its original context, we see that Rebbe Nachman is trying to encourage newcomers – people who have only recently begun to lead a spiritual life.  “When people begin serving God,” he writes, “they at first might experience a feeling of rejection.  It seems to them that they are being rebuffed from on high.”  Rebbe Nachman is speaking to an experience that is very common – many times, when we pursue a spiritual path, it seems like it won’t work, like we can’t do it.

“Surely,” he continues, “concerning all this and matters like it one needs great encouragement.  People have to encourage themselves very much and pay no attention whatsoever to all this.”  We must not allow our disappointment, our fear, to dissuade us from spiritual living. “For in truth all distancing is nothing but being brought near.”  God is everything and God is everywhere, no matter what direction we feel we are moving in.  We are not alone, and while we continue to lead a spiritual life, and to do the next right thing, we will continue to move towards blessing and away from curse.  We will continue to succeed.

Rebbe Nachman commands us to move away from fear that brings hopelessness and doubt, that makes us want to give up and give in.  As our world is a very narrow bridge, this is the type of fear that we must not feel at all.  Even as we are distant from our friends and communities in physical space, we must continue to connect and strengthen one another.  Together, we must continue to strive to lead a spiritual life: a life of connection, a life of recovery, a life of self-care, and a life of selfless action.  Even as we feel distant, we must remember that as we continue to do the next right thing, we will be brought close; we will continue to connect.  And as we pursue a spiritual path, we will continue to succeed.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Miriam