Fear motivates us to do extraordinary things, not all of which are good. Last week, a middle school student stabbed one of his peers to death, allegedly as a result of deep fears and anxiety in the face of being bullied. This week, 11-year-old honor student Cyon Williams of Staten Island dropped out of his middle school because his fear of his classmates led him to similar thoughts: “Killing myself or killing others was on my mind–I couldn’t deal with it anymore,” he said.
Cyon’s fear was manifesting itself in anxiety symptoms such as biting his fingernails off and severe stomach pains. Apparently, just like everyone else regardless of age, he didn’t want to verbalize his fears.
We see something similar in this week’s Torah portion, Hukkat. The campaign of conquest of the Promised Land gets underway, starting with the kings of Ammon and Moav. As the Israelite army is confronted by Og, king of Bashan, God says to Moshe, “Don’t fear him” (Numbers 21:34). There’s just one problem with the text. Where does the Torah say that Moshe was in any way afraid? It’s not as if earlier fears aren’t recorded. For starters, after realizing that his killing of the Egyptian taskmaster is public knowledge, “Moses was afraid” (Exodus 2:14). He’s also afraid to encounter God at the Burning Bush and so he covers his face.
Why, then, does the Torah record God’s reassuring words to Moshe, but not the emotional activity that prompted the reassurance?
On Shabbat morning, we’ll learn a legend about Moshe and his character that can perhaps help us all, from a little boy like Cyon Williams to a national hero like Moshe, deal with the most natural of emotional responses, fear.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov,
Rabbi David Wise