My almost three-year-old twin grandsons came running inside calling for “Bubbe.” I couldn’t understand what they were jabbering about, but they were clearly excited. Our daughter Elkie interpreted that they wanted to show me the hentie, “hand” in Yiddish.
Together, they pulled me out the front door of their house and led me to what was so fascinating–a parked car with an arm hanging out of the trunk.
“It’s not real–look!” I assured them. As I moved toward it, the twins screamed in terror.
I picked up the hentie –a lifeless hand complete with knuckles and nails– and squeezed it.
“See? It’s not real!” I repeated as I shook the hand some more.
They both inched toward the car and tapped the hand, first one twin, then the other. Thrilled by their bravery, they repeated, “not real” and “me touch it” all the way home.
I wondered what their young minds processed. Were they scared that the arm belonged to a person stashed in the trunk or were they just troubled by the sight of a loose arm?
I tried to explain to them that we don’t have to be afraid of things that aren’t real, but as I was about to say that we only have to be afraid of things that are real, I stopped myself. Instead I said, “you’re Jewish, so you don’t have to be afraid of anything except God.”
Jewish life celebrates that the natural world is a vehicle but never an obstacle to serving God. The holiday of Sukkot reminds us that the true protection of the Jewish nation comes not from the bricks or mortar of our homes, but only God Himself.
To internalize this in an intelligent, meaningful way takes a lifetime of work, but it’s never too early to reinforce fearlessness. (That these two boys look like they’re on their way to being built like linebackers is beside the point; a Jew’s true strength is spiritual, not physical.)
Surely a solid Jewish education strengthens fearlessness as well. I often hear that “Torah is the blueprint for Creation,” that God did not superimpose Torah on the world, but that the world was created as a vehicle for Torah and the Jewish people.
In other words, God had a “desire” for this “Chosen People” and everything we see in the world is in some way or another an outgrowth of this love, even though it’s a love that can’t be fully expressed until the Messianic Era.
For some Jews, this notion is preposterous, but for Jews who embrace it– out of faith and, in many cases, through text-based scholarship– this notion provides an essential spiritual foundation, the by-product of which is a lack of fear.
Still, the question inevitably becomes, “Okay, I have God totally on my side. Now what?”
That means different things to different people. But it’s a new year, which means more Godly light available to all of us, especially if we aren’t afraid to access it.