Do not fear, have hope (Parashat Vayigash)

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In the last few weeks, Google put out a video entitled, “Year in Search 2017.”

In it, we discover that all year long, we’ve been asking “how” — highlighting the many questions we asked this year with that word. In it, we are reminded of the wildfires, the hurricanes and the refugees our world had to tend to this year.

We are also reminded of the struggles we shared, more individually, from how to protect our homes from floods to the #MeToo movement and how we can help. The question that Google poses, highlighted and standing alone is, “How to be fearless?”

Fear is a complex emotion, core to survival and humanity. It has kept us alive and keeps us focused. Famously quoted, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” He tells us that our fears compound, being afraid of fear.

I was listening to a podcast by Tim Ferriss, who spoke of a television show he put together years ago entitled, “Fear{Less}.” I was struck deeply by the name, and it resonated upon reading the parashah.

Of all the things that happen in our story, it is this week that God says to Jacob, “Fear not to go down to Egypt” (Gen 46:3). God tells him that despite his misgivings about heading into Egypt, he should not fear.

This statement is said many times in the Torah. Abraham and Isaac are both told not to fear by God, along with Hagar. Moses reminds the people, and Joseph reminds his brothers. It is said enough times for us to notice.

I want to highlight that the language is, do not fear. It could have said many other things: “Have no fear” or “be fearless.” But it doesn’t. It says, “Do not fear.”

I believe that the Holy One is telling us, “Do not fear only, also have hope.” And when we look at our lives, reflecting on how each of us searched the internet and Torah for answers, we know this to be true.

Each of us has a purpose and a mission in our lives — the thing, action, career, subject of study that brings out the excitement and passion in us.

It is the thing that drives us forward. It is the hard work that it brings out in us, for if something is worth doing, it takes time and effort. It is the little miracles that appear like lights in the dark.

And it is the destiny, like Jacob and his people who went down into Egypt knowing that hardship was ahead but with the knowledge that it will end.

It is the message of this season that we must strive to be a light in the darkness, to be better human beings than we were before and to take the time to do so.

The question we’re left with, the question we’ve all been searching is: How?

We accomplish all this with faith and trust not just with the Divine, but with each other. Learning how to talk to one another, engaging with the idea that each of us is doing our best and trusting that we will be there for each other when it matters.

We do this by loving one another. When things are hard and hate fills the world, we must strive to give ahavat hinam unconditional, freely given love to one another. For it is this love that binds us together. Lastly, we do the hard work, physically, spiritually and relationally to get us where we need to be.

It means saying “I’m sorry,” “I was wrong” and “I can do better.” It means that where there were breaks, we can put bandages.

For in the end, I believe that God is saying to each of us through Jacob, “Do not fear, have hope.”

Posted also at the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

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Jeremy MarkizblogComment