by Rabbi Russell Jayne
(AJNews) – There is a Jewish parable about a righteous man who went on a journey and failed to lock the door of his house. While he was away, a crowd of demons entered and took over his dwelling. When the man returned and opened his door, the demons rushed at him, ready to devour him. He slammed the door shut, took a deep breath, and prayed. Then he took another deep breath and opened the door. At once, the demons rushed forward, but as they reached the righteous man, he bowed low in acknowledgement of their presence. An amazing thing then happened. The demons disappeared, and the man got his house back.
Now, why am I telling you this story?
As we move into the High Holidays, it is only natural that we will work out for ourselves and reflect on all that we wish to accomplish and change during this upcoming year. It is also quite possible that all of this hope and assessment will be accompanied by a great deal of fear. This is quite natural, because whenever we dream, or contemplate taking a step forward in our lives, our sense of what is possible expands, and this brings us closer to the unknown. As you might expect, this is quite frightening. It is also very natural for us to have this experience. So much so, that as we reflect on our hopes for the approaching year, we might also long for our fears to just get out of the way, so that they do not obstruct the path forward that we want to take. It is a nice hope, but in reality, it may not even be possible for most people.
Jewish tradition provides us with a wise answer. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. “All the world is a narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to be afraid.” That is how Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s quote is usually translated. Yet, that is not, exactly, what the great Rabbi said. A better translation of his quote would be, “When a person has to cross a narrow bridge in this life, the main thing is that he should not make himself afraid.” In other words, if we have to approach or do something that causes us to fear, there is no point in trying to wish it away or pretend that it isn’t there. What we have to do is not frighten ourselves or make the fear bigger than it needs to be so that it keeps us from moving forward.
Yet, what should we do instead? Well, that’s where the story of the righteous man whose house was full of demons comes into play. When the demons were discovered, the man closed the door, took a deep breath, offered a prayer, then took another deep breath. He began by distancing himself from what frightened him, but that was only briefly in order that he might gather his strength. He then turned to face and even welcomed what frightened him. Once he did this, his fears disintegrated.
Choosing to turn towards our fears is one of the most difficult things that we can do, but if we can manage it, this can open for us a world of awe and opportunity. As we move into the possibilities and potential of 5784, let us recall the righteous man whose house was overrun by demons, and like him, gather our strength, take a deep breath, and open the door in welcome.
Rabbi Cantor Russell Jayne is the spiritual leader and Kol Bo at Beth Tzedec Congregation in Calgary.