Surrounding the Surrounded
Face Your Fear
Check through any of my various streaming platform histories and you’ll see a pattern. I love the action-thriller-spy-in-enemy-territory genre. The more unbelievable the better. One hero infiltrates the enemy’s base without any support, totally surrounded, no weapons, and somehow they make it out AND thwart the attack? I am hooked. Far afield from anything in my life (although a mid diaper change poop is oddly similar), the idea that one person can feel so surrounded and come out on top is alluring to me.
This week, we brought in the new Hebrew month of Shvat. As is customary, Jews across the world chant Hallel to mark this day. A line that we always sing in it from Psalm 118 has caught my eye for years and this week new light was shed on it in conjunction with a lesson from the weekly parshah.
In Psalm 118, we read the following:
which I would honestly translate to, they’re REALLY surrounding me. Who? My enemies.
That REALLY, illustrated in the Hebrew with a doubling of the word for encircled is kind of odd. Why do we need to read about the extra level of fear here?
Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the Kedushas Levi connected this fear with the concept in our portion where the Israelites, preparing to leave Egypt into freedom, need to take a lamb on the 10th and hold it until the 14th. That waiting period is key to their development.
The voice in the Psalm is afraid he argues. Not the kind of afraid where you feel like you have a handle on it but one in which you’re kind of unsure you’re going to make it. That’s what’s happening in the aforementioned REALLY dynamic. This type of fear is a relapse into a lack of faith that is called מוחין דקטנות, best understood as a narrow or constricted consciousness. You lose your ability to self-assure.
Sometimes in life we have to test ourselves in that space. We intentionally need to surround ourselves in the REALLY type of situation. In this case, the Israelites, recently subjugated by the Egyptians, needed to take their deity, house it, watch it, and eventually slaughter it for their own sacred monotheistic purposes. That’s how you confront your fears.
So much of what we do in life can be taken care of with an easy way out. We try not to ruffle too many of our own feathers. That’s the way it goes. But the real work and magic happens when we can be a bit daring and find a sense of calm EVEN amid the encircling enemy.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself in that position: at work, school, or at home. Give yourself a chance to feel that, face it, and come out of the other side. See, the Jack Ryans and the Faudas of the world are REALLY just teaching an ancient lesson.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend!