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Do not fear, for I am with you… (26:24).
These are G-d's words to Isaac in Beer Sheba after the Philistines ceased to quarrel with him over scarce water supplies. He continued to tell him: 'I will bless you and make your children many for the sake of My servant, Abraham.
There are three occasions in the book of Genesis where G-d communicates to the Patriarchs with these words 'al tira' - 'do not fear'. The first time is to Abraham, after his success in his rescue of Lot in the war against the four kings: 'Do not fear Avram, I will shield you; your reward will be very great' (15:1). The second time is here - to Isaac - after his success in obtaining an uncontested source of water. And the third is to Jacob when he was en route to Egypt to be reunited with Joseph after learning that he was still alive and ruling over Egypt: 'Do not fear in going down to Egypt, for I will may you into a great nation' (46:3).
Common to all three is that those words 'Do not fear' were not used when, at first glance, it would have made sense for the Patriarchs to actually feel afraid. G-d did not add the words to Abraham when he was told to 'go the land which I shall show you (12:1). Nor to Isaac, when he was a stranger in the lands of Abimelech. Nor to Jacob, when he fled to Laban, or was about to face Esau and his four hundred men on his return.
On the contrary, 'Do not fear' headed periods of success, periods of victory. 'Do not fear' came at the time at the moments of success, not of dreaded imminent disaster.
Rashi addresses this problem in his comment on 15:1. He remarks that 'Do not fear' was directed at Abraham's concern that his miraculous deliverance in his rescue of Lot from the four kings would have exhausted his supply of merits in the Divine scales of justice for help in any future crisis. 'Do not fear', said G-d to Abraham, 'I will continue to act as your protector' (ibid).
However, there is another approach, which addresses a fundamental in human nature from which all can learn. Psychologists point out that personal success can be as stressful as personal failure, as the following illustrates:
A family in Jerusalem very well-known to the writer lived for nearly a decade in a crowded and not very comfortable apartment. At the end of that period, they managed to put enough money together to purchase a well-appointed spacious place in a prestigious neighborhood, which would be sufficient for all their needs. The parents would have appropriate workspace, the children (at last) rooms of their own, with air conditioning, and also a large open veranda. Perfect! The wife was so happy that she declared that she would stay there even if she won the lottery - she'd pay off the mortgage and stay put.
But there was little joy as move-in day drew nearer … only stress. No arguments or disappointments - the repairs and pre-moving arrangements were going along just fine. But they felt disorientated, shocked, even. By success? Yes! And all the more because they could not share their 'problem' with anyone else for 'fear' of getting a reply of 'You should be so lucky!'
Successes as a human condition bring challenges and fears of its own, especially as it opens a new chapter of potentially disorientating experiences. And it can be all the lonelier as people who have not been in that precise situation do not understand… But G-d did understand. And He showed it with those words to the Patriarchs - 'Do not fear'.
For those after more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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