Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) 5777–2017Overcoming Fear

Looking for a great topic for discussion at your Passover Seder? Consider a story that’s a staple in every Hebrew school. The people put blood from the Pascal Lamb on their doorposts so their homes would be spared from the plague of the firstborn.And I shall pass through Egypt on this night, and I shall strike every firstborn in the land of Egypt…The blood will be a sign for you upon the houses where you are; and I will see the blood and I will skip over you…(12:12-13)
Is G-d a mail carrier who has to look at an address to know which parcel goes to whom? He knows everything; why did He need the visual aid of blood on the doorposts? The answer is that the blood wasn’t for G-d, it was for the Jews. The Passover offering is a lamb, an Egyptian god. When over a million powerless slaves slaughter the god of their oppressors, it testifies to their trust in G-d.Most people assume that the blood was placed on the outside doorpost, but a more accurate reading of the text reveals that the blood was placed on the inside (rather than outside) doorpost (The blood will be a sign for you, “for you,” not for others.) Its purpose was not because G-d needed a sign to know whose door to overlook, it was for the Jews to look at, consider their commitment, and how it would impact their lives, families, and the entire nation.
The Jewish people had been in Egypt so long and were steeped in idolatry. How could they expect G-d to help them if they were worshipping idolatry? By slaughtering an Egyptian god, a god many Jews believed in, the Israelites were eradicating their misplaced trust and had the opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty to the One, true G-d. Jews brought the idea of ethical monotheism to the world, now they had a chance to pledge allegiance to it.   R. Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865, author of HaKatav v;Hakabala) understands this idea as a beacon for understanding the relationship between love and fear. 
When one is to show his unequivocal love for someone, he does not allow fear to prevent him from fulfilling the wishes of that person, even if danger is involved…This sign was a wondrous mark of their full repentance and devotion to G-d, and their absolute rejection of idolatry.Fear is a short word but has the ability to touch every aspect of our lives. Some people cannot get into a committed relationship because of fear. For others, it means not auditioning for the school play “because I was scared of what everyone would think of me.” Fear prevents people from applying for jobs (for which they are qualified) or even attempting to place their names in the running for a higher-level position because of how certain people might perceive it. (“She’s applying for this job?”)If fear is your main motivator, you will not be able to lead the life you want. One of life’s great tragedies is that we don’t get the love, relationships, or career fulfillment we want because fear “forces” us to accept a relationship or job that’s, at best, not to our liking and, at worst, toxic. Or, fear will cause us to reject something we know is right.
I’ve been observing this phenomenon for years with Jews. A person is afraid to talk to a rabbi because of how it will be perceived by others. A college student once told me he was very interested in meeting when I was on campus but wasn’t sure if he could because “it looks weird to meet with a rabbi.” A woman was transferred by her company to work their Israel office. While living there, she found meaning and tranquility in lighting Shabbos candles but stopped when she returned because she was afraid her roommates might make fun of her and call her religious. Fear deprived her of the magical feeling she testified to having every Friday night.
Our ancestors were able to overcome the fear of their captors and thusly merited to be redeemed. They knew they were witnessing a unique historical phenomenon. A weak and persecuted people were rescued by a loving G-d, who had the power to do so. Abraham chose G-d and was not afraid of the consequences; therefore, G-d chose Abraham. Abraham’s decedents in Egypt followed his course, and they too were chosen by G-d to be a model for all people.
Being a model means overcoming fear as it relates to one’s Judaism. Are you comfortable talking about a great novel or work of nonfiction, but would be embarrassed to talk about a meaningful Biblical passage? Are you proud to talk about a playoff game you got tickets to or the adult basketball league you are part of but would feel embarrassed to say that you had a meaningful experience attending a synagogue or Jewish class?
When the Jews put blood on their doorposts, they demonstrated that fear would not detract them from doing what they needed to.
Does serious Jewish engagement frighten you? Maybe it’s time to reconsider. As the saying goes, “Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the Ark, professionals built the Titanic.” Do something Jewish, and don’t panic. Good ShabbosRead More