The deteriorating security situation in Israel can make us feel fear or anxiety for our safety and the safety of our loved ones. Sometimes, the fear can be overpowering, preventing us from calmly going about our daily routine.
The inner dimension of the Torah affords us simple, practical and effective advice for dealing with fear. Of course, if a person is suffering from serious, crippling anxiety, he or she should seek personal, focused help. This article will cover some of the basics for the fears that we all encounter.
Fear No One but God
The most basic understanding that we need for dealing with fear is the last instruction of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s father, shortly before he died, to his son, Yisrael (who would later become the Ba’al Shem Tov), when he was just five years old. The Ba’al Shem Tov’s father departed from his son with the words, “Yisraelik, fear nothing in the world, other than God, and love every Jew.” The Ba’al Shem did, indeed, fulfill his father’s directive, both in the realm of fear and the realm of love. In the realm of fear – even as a young boy, he would wander through the forests and fields, and when asked if he was not afraid of wild beasts and robbers, he would answer that his father had already directed him to fear nothing but God.
But how does the lofty fear of God face off against the very tangible fear of dangers that surround us? How can we put this rectification of fear into practice?
The three answers that follow are based on the simple meaning and the interpretation of our Sages of the verse in Proverbs 12:25, “If there be anxiety in a man’s heart, let him suppress it (yashchena), and a good word will turn it into joy.”
The first, simple meaning: Yashchena means to minimize, supress and restrain the fear.
The second meaning of Yashchena, which can also be read as Yesichena, according to the Sages, is to remove it from one’s thoughts.
The third meaning of Yashchena, read as Yeshichena is to articulate it to others.
First, we must understand that fear actually expresses lack of faith in God. True, fear is a natural human response to danger. But even then, it does imply that the person thinks that he is master of his fate, or that fate is his master. When a person lives with faith in God, he knows that anything that happens to him is part of God’s Divine Providence for him, that God is the true good, and thus there is nothing to fear.
Thus, the first recommendation is to take note that my emotion of fear counters my faith. It shows that I take myself too seriously, imagine that I know better than God what has to happen in my life and that I think that I must be in full control. If I do not want that to be the case, I prefer – and am fully capable of implementing this– not to let the feelings of fear overtake me. Instead, I can eliminate them while they are still small, pushing them out of my mind as soon as they enter my consciousness.
Removing Fear from One’s Thoughts
One of the earmarks of fear is that it shrinks one’s entire being into fearfulness. The fearful person is totally submerged in a world in which there is nothing but the fear and the factor causing it. One of the simple, human recommendations for dealing with pressure, anxiety and fear is to busy oneself with things that remove one’s thoughts from it.
On a deeper, more powerful level, busying my emotions with thoughts of God’s greatness and the fear that His wondrous Presence imparts becomes – in addition to the importance of thinking about God’s Presence – a significant and positive replacement for the negative, fearful thoughts.
This recommendation, in other words, tells us not to preoccupy ourselves with the “stick” threatening us, but rather with the infinitely stronger and more significant factor: The Creator and Ruler of the world, from Whom everything emanates and Who controls all.
Articulating to Others – Turning Fear into Laughter
Jacob calls God “Pachad Yitzchak/ the Fear of Isaac”. Pachad Yitzchak can also be translated as “fear will laugh”. The deep meaning of this Name is that there is a surprising connection specifically between fear and laughter. One of the expressions of this connection is that when we are truly close to God, the reality of fear from other things turns into something comical.
Accordingly, another recommendation for dealing with fear is to laugh out loud, together with others, about my fears. This has nothing at all to do, God forbid, with black humor about tragedies. Instead, it is turning myself into an object of humor, laughing about how I can be so fearful of whatever it is that is causing me anxiety. Laughter provides release, turning the fear into a positive factor in my mental health and my connection to God, which becomes strengthened and empowered from within the difficult situation.