Shlomo M. Hamburger

What, me worry? Managing our Fears

In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach, ten of the twelve spies sent to scout the land returned a negative report. Their last words that caused the people of Israel to weep all night long were:

וַנְהִי בְעֵינֵינוּ כְּחַגָבִים, וְכֵן הָיִינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶם (במדבר 13:33)

We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes and so we were in their eyes.

These words sparked the fire of fear throughout the Israelites’ camp and led to open rebellion. They also led to G-d’s promise that the same generation that was redeemed from Egyptian slavery, watched the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, witnessed the giving of the Ten Commandments, and experienced many other miracles first-hand would die in the desert.

This story illustrates the negative power of our fears.

In his book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” Dale Carnegie tells the following story:

On the slope of Long’s Peak in Colorado lies the ruin of a gigantic tree. Naturalists tell us that it stood for some four hundred years. It was a seedling when Columbus landed at San Salvador, and half grown when the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth. During the course of its long life, it was struck by lightning fourteen times, and the innumerable avalanches and storms of four centuries thundered past it. It survived them all. In the end, however, an army of beetles attacked the tree and leveled it to the ground. The insects ate their way through the bark and gradually destroyed the inner strength of the tree by their tiny but incessant attacks. A forest giant which age had not withered, nor lightning blasted, nor storms subdued, fell at last before beetles so small that a man could crush them between his forefinger and his thumb.

Carnegie continued: “Aren’t we all like that battling giant of the forest? Don’t we manage somehow to survive the rare storms and avalanches and lightning blasts of life, only to let our hearts be eaten out by little beetles of worry — little beetles that could be crushed between a finger and a thumb?”

So, too, the people of lsrael managed to survive the many truly life-threatening hazards of escaping from Egyptian slavery only to be undone by fearing that they could be crushed like small bugs.

That is how it is with us all week long. In the daily grind, we let our inordinate fears prevent us from achieving our ultimate goals and dreams. Then comes Shabbat, particularly this Shabbat which precedes the American Independence Day, when we can declare freedom from fears of perceived imperfections that try to define who we are. The story of the spies reminds us that, in truth, there are no limitations on who we may become. To modify the spies’ phrase, Shabbat gives us the perspective to be like worthy people in our own eyes so that we will then be perceived that way in the eyes of those around us.

Shabbat Shalom!

About the Author
Shlomo (Paul) M. Hamburger is a retired lawyer. He is the author of numerous books and articles and a frequent speaker and teacher. Shlomo is on the International Advisory Board for Chabad on Campus International. He is also the author of "The Anochi Project: Seeking God's Identity" and "Unlocking the Code: The Letters of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, Translations with Practical Lessons".