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April 14, 2011 1:25 pm

From Fear to Freedom

avatar by Menucha Levy

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There is something I have been grappling with these past few weeks. It keeps me up at night – startled, wide-eyed, staring hollowly at the ceiling…thinking. It has managed to steal my mental focus; proving me socially distracted throughout the day. It makes demands at my attention during prayer. Heck, it makes me pray in the first place. It is fear. And it has found a cold and icy home in my mind. Fear has penetrated my physical body this season, clutching my veins and fighting to win my heart. I’m afraid of the future because of the past. As a species, we proved not that we learn from our history, but that we will inevitably and unfortunately repeat it. I’m in fear of the void left in the wake of a heroic and fearless family’s butchering. In fear of the evening news that refuses to report the monstrous massacre. And in fear of the murderer who lives in freedom. But what scares me most is the fear itself.

Fear is by far the most dangerous of emotions I have ever come to know – at times even more conquering than love! How many lovers have turned their back on their heart in order to rid themselves of the fear in their mind? The greatest of aspirations? Blown to bits by fear of failure. Fear causes people to do the most unintelligent of things; a phobia can make an adult act like a small child. Somehow, fear trumps reason – and that is the scariest thing of all. Recently, I’ve witnessed far too many instances where fear turned educated folk into people who choose not to know. People who are too afraid of reality to hear the news. Too afraid of the dread to think about being proactive. Intelligent people who say “please don’t tell me”, “I don’t want to know”, “I can’t think about it”. It’s the most frightening thing ever, being in fear of knowledge.

This time of year always has me pondering the modern meaning of freedom. Good ol’ American propaganda has led us to believe that freedom can be found all over the representation of our Country, and in the sheer existence of the United Nations. They say freedom can be witnessed in our country’s acceptance, and that it was bursting at the star-spangled seams of the Obama presidential election. I though, average American that I am, was never quite able to compartmentalize freedom as anything other than free of fear – something our country and it’s government are quite evidently not. In my mind, fearlessness always seemed to be the most potent of freedoms. This year, I have finally caught on to the fact that the Exodus tells of a freedom in it’s entirety; in it’s essence. And yet, it’s a freedom that was far from fear-free.

While enslaved in Egypt, the Jewish People were afraid to complain of work, afraid to believe in Moses. They were afraid to have faith in redemption, and even given the opportunity – afraid to forgo their routine. They were afraid of slaughtering the ram, afraid of it’s Egyptian symbolism. The people were afraid of Pharaoh, of Moses, of G-d. But that was all before they were freed, right? Shockingly, they then proceeded to be afraid of the chase, of being driven right back into slavery. Afraid of the sea trapping and drowning them. Afraid of starvation (as that in/famous supply of Matzoh began to dwindle), etc. These people were so very far from fearless, and yet they were free in the most honost sense of the word. They were free – all fear on hold – to trust in G-d, but it was their choice to believe Him or not.

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I find that different instances in life cause us to see things differently. I’ve recounted the story of Pesach year after year, but this year, in the wake of many world tragedies and evolutions, as I struggle with my own personal variety of fear, I’ve learnt something new from our people’s historic and epic salvation. I’ve learnt that it’s okay to be afraid of the future. There’s nothing wrong with being in fear of current events and where they seem to be headed. We must allow ourselves the freedom of fright – it is far better than the ball-and-chain of living in the dark. But, at the same time, we must know that we are choosing fear – that we possess the ability to fight it. We must be wise enough to want to know, to learn, to experience. And yet, we can be strong enough to be bold, and trustworthy, and fearless. It’s in our DNA, our faith and trust in G-d. We are commanded to “know Him and fear Him” – because we already believe in Him.

We can learn a thing or two from a nation who witnessed a legitimate redemption of biblical proportions: you can be afraid and you can believe. They need not be a dichotomy. So as middle-eastern nations of the world valiantly fight for their freedom while our freedom-reeking President sits idly by – in utter fear of getting involved, I can choose to freedom-fight by not being afraid of this news. And while thousands of innocent people are washed up on a Japanese coastline, we can watch the news, read about earthquake preparedness, and choose to be as ready as possible. When terrorism strikes our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, we can choose to read it, to see it, to hear it, and in turn, to fight it. We’ve all been sucker-punched by the cold hard truth at one point or another, and we’ve all walked away better people thereafter. We must choose to know – in order to fear, and we must allow ourselves the freedom to fear in order to act. But most of all, we must give in at some point, and learn from the Exodus of Egypt: let our finite perception rest, giving ourselves over in our heart and in our mind to our leader, our freedom-fighter, our G-d.

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