Lazer Gurkow

Realize Your Worst Fears

Realizing your worst fears can be frightful. Deep inside we all have that abiding fear that we tamp down and bury far beneath the surface. It might be a fear of failure, a fear of being mocked, a fear of heights, a fear of darkness. Whatever our fears are, we never ever want them to be realized.

But there is another, and much more profound, meaning to the words, realize your worst fears. It means that by confronting your worst fears you realize true unlimited growth. Our fears limit us. Even if they are subconscious, they lead us away from activities that we fear. If you are afraid of making a fool of yourself on the dancefloor, you shy away from all dancefloors and avoid any event that includes dancing. That is a limitation. It feels like you are freeing yourself from your worst fears, but in fact, you are giving in to them. You are allowing them to limit you.

We have no idea how far we can actually go. If we ever threw caution to the winds, risked being vulnerable, and danced with abandon we would realize it. It might be so thrilling and uplifting that it might feel like a liberation. Only then will we realize how confining our fears really were. Only then will we realize that by confronting our worst fears, we can achieve our greatest growth. We can unshackle our desires, unleash our abilities, and unfetter our greatest potential.

In Egypt
When Moses arrived in Egypt with the news that G-d had sent him to liberate the Jews, he was expecting to bring instant relief. His greatest fear, however, was realized. Rather than responding positively to Moses’s message of liberation, Pharaoh increased the burden of the Jewish slaves. Tell them to stop indulging in false hopes, said Pharaoh. Increase their load so they won’t have time to dream of liberty.

Moses was crestfallen. His worst fears had been realized. Why have you done such evil to your people, he demanded of G-d. Moses had been hesitant when G-d instructed him to go to Pharaoh. First, he asked that G-d send someone else. Then he worried that the people wouldn’t believe him. Then he worried that Pharaoh would not listen to him.

G-d reassured him on each count and indeed everything worked according to plan. The people believed him, and Pharaoh heard him well. Perhaps too well. His response was one that even Moses didn’t anticipate. Devastated, Moses cried out to G-d. He wailed and demanded. Why?

G-d’s Response
G-d’s reply to Moses is most difficult to understand. First, G-d said, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh; with a mighty arm he will let you go and with a mighty hand he will drive you from the land.”

On the face of it, this sounds like reassurance. But then G-d appears to pivot from promising redemption, to reproving Moses. “And I have appeared to the patriarchs, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I never made myself known to them by my true name.” G-d went on to say that he had made a promise to the patriarchs to give the land of Israel to their children.

What does it mean that he never made Himself known by his true name and how is this connected to the promise that G-d made to the patriarchs?

Rashi, the famous biblical commentator explained that G-d was reprimanding Moses for his lack of faith. I have promised Israel to the patriarchs many times and I have never made myself known to them by my true name. In other words, I have never fulfilled my promise. They never got to see that my words are true.

What is the point of dredging up the past? Rashi explains that this was in reproof of Moses. The patriarchs were patient with me for centuries. I have been promising Israel to their children for years and they never questioned me when they didn’t see my promise fulfilled. You, on the other hand, made one attempt to free the people, and already you are complaining?

This is why this response is so difficult to understand. It began with a promise that Moses would see the Jews liberated. It pivoted to reprimanding Moses for his lack of faith. If Moses lacked faith, why would he merit to see the liberation of the Jews?

But it doesn’t end there. G-d goes on to say four different times that He will liberate the Jews. I heard the moans of the Jewish people and I remember my covenant with them. Go and tell them, I will extract you from your suffering in Egypt, I will save you from bondage, and I will liberate you with great miracles. And I will take you to me for a nation.

Such heady words. What an uplifting and exciting message to a man that G-d had just ridiculed for his lack of faith. What is going on? First a promise to Moses. You will see that Pharaoh will drive them out. Then a reproof to Moses, ‘ye of little faith.’ And finally, a heady promise to the people.

Here Comes the Truth
As usual, when we confront irregularities in the text that are difficult to decipher, we know that there is a deeper layer of meaning that must be unpeeled. And the Chasidic masters have unpeeled it for us.

G-d suddenly brought up the patriarchs when he was talking to Moses. This was not just to reprimand Moses. It was to help Moses understand why he and the Jewish people had to realize their worst fears before they could experience true liberation.

The patriarchs heard all kinds of promises from me, but they were just promises. It was never real for them, which is why it never came true for them. I could not reveal my name of truth, I could not reveal my true self to them because they never plumbed their true depths.

It is only now that you and the Jewish people have hit rock bottom and you have nowhere to go but up that you can experience the incredible liberation that awaits you. Why can my name of truth be revealed today though it was never revealed during the long years of the patriarchs? Because of everything you just complained about. When we confront our limitations and acknowledge that we can’t help yourself, we surrender to G-d. We acknowledge that only G-d can help, and we put yourself in His hands. When we set aside our ego and resourcefulness, and make space for G-d, we become worthy of G-d’s intervention.

This is why you will now get to see my truth. You revealed your truth, now it is time for me to show you mine. The morning is only as bright as the night is dark. The ascent is only as high as the descent is low.

So, the next time you realize your worst fears, the things you have avoided all your life, know that you are about to realize your highest gains. You are about to be liberated. But first you had to confront your fears and place yourself in G-d’s hands. Only them do you realize that your limitations are not real. Only then do you realize your greatest potential.

When the walls that hemmed you in for decades are exposed as an empty mirage, you get to leap ahead. This is what brought us out of Egypt, and this is how we will bring Mashiach.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at
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