William Hamilton

When I’m not afraid of being hurt

“When I’m not afraid of being hurt, I can know people differently.” This is what Maggie, a middle-aged wife and mother, recently told her therapist. She’d grown up surrounded by threats in an urban neighborhood broken by substance abuse. Having survived, having come to realize that siege isn’t the necessary habitat for human beings, she is now flourishing.

I wonder, can we apply her insight to ourselves. That is, can I get to know myself differently when I’m not gripped by the fear of being hurt? In other words, do I define myself by who I despise? Or do I rise each morning with a quiet purpose to meet what the new day may invite?

Years ago a fellow-learner asked me, “Why is a biblical God so jealous? Is it really about some fear over heavenly market share?” We agreed that surely there was something else in play. It made no sense for Scripture to present a Lord who was so insecure and petty. It dawned on us that, perhaps, God’s one-ness is more for our sake. When it rubs off on us, we come away more integrated, orderly, and focused. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel suggests a fascinating outcomes-based metric for spiritual living. If, in the afterglow of an insight or deed, we can see a way to gather the scattered strands of our lives, to unite what lies in strife, in a way that’s good for us and for others, then we can know it’s a signpost along God’s way. Simply, this is one-ness working its magic on you. But if we come away from an idea or deed feeling self-inflated, indifferent to the plight of others, or unaware of the dangers of evil, then it’s a deviation from God’s way. That is, this is how dis-integrating polytheism rubs off on somebody. 

The portion of Torah this week always launches a seven-week period of consolation. It follows our national day of mourning, beginning a process that will lift us from the mourner’s-bench by setting us on the road up to the High Holy Days. It’s no accident that the portion includes the Shema, Judaism’s core creed. The passage, turned prayer, emphasizes God’s one-ness. “Listen, Israel, God is our Lord, God is one. Love God, your Lord, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5). It also prefers love to fear.

Today’s threats are real. Being watchful of them is essential. So is not being defined by them. 

August often invites changes in scenery. Will you go spiritual sight-seeing or do you hunger for something deeper, something that can ground you, order your life, and grant you a quality of focus that’s able to meet mounting challenges. 

It’s been said that the two most important days in your life are: 1) the day you were born, and 2) the day you discover why. May consolation begin to pour-forth as you take time this month to get to know yourself a bit differently.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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