After Rosh Hashana this past year, I resolved to start jogging. Not a life-altering change, just an addition to my stale years-old swimming routine. I needed a new exercise to inject some energy into my body and my days. I had a big hurdle to overcome: I am not a runner. I am scared of running. I am afraid that I will be left gasping for air, my chest throbbing in pain, and even worse, that I will fall (because I am a clutz).
I got some advice as to how to start. I ran on my treadmill for two months, until one day I took myself outside. Something amazing happened. I jogged three miles, without stopping. I wasn’t gasping for air, I felt no pain, and I didn’t fall. It wasn’t that difficult.
Funny how we can allow fear to build up in our minds to the point where we’re convinced we can’t do something. And then we do it.
I’m left wondering: What else have I been afraid of that isn’t so hard? What other fears am I harboring that are serving as stumbling blocks?
Here’s an insight about that word fear from how we Jews use the word in our biblical texts.
Toward the end of the Torah we witness a key transition in the life of our people as Moses passes down the mantle of leadership to Joshua. Moses says to Joshua: “G-d will be with you; Adonai will not fail you or forsake you. Fear not and be not dismayed!" (Deuteronomy 31:8)
The Hebrew language has a number of different words for "fear." There are subtle nuances in translations that help us to understand what the words really signify. For instance, the word pachad is best translated as "terror" or "trembling." It is best utilized when associated with forceful events, wrath, or rage. On the other hand, yira, the word Moses uses in addressing Joshua, is most closely associated with theophany (a manifestation or appearance of G-d). Thus, in these instances "fear" can also be understood as "awe," because they represent different sides of the same experience.
The other side of fear is awe. Sounds kind of crazy. And yet, when I finished that first 3 mile run, I exuberantly exclaimed AWESOME! That’s how I felt. We humans are creatures of awe and wonder. At the same time, we are fearful of that which we don’t understand, and of the unknown. The edge between fear and awe is razor thin; but they are two sides of the same balance beam.
My Rosh Hashanna resolution is now in motion, and the new (secular year) is just around the corner. Another time for resolutions. I’m resolving to trade in fear for awe. Your turn.
Happy New Year.