Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Our Most Costly Fear

To be human is to have fears. Some of us fear the big things like financial collapse and illness for the ones we love. Others of us fear the small, like did I make enough food for Shabbat and will I pass my driving test. Sometimes we have irrational fears, like the fear of heights and of a mouse. The person who is brave enough to scale Mt Everest may have stage fright or be afraid to speak in public. We don't invite our fears. We wish we didn't have them. Often we are ashamed of our fears. But alas, they are as much ours as the color of our eyes.

What fear, do you suppose, has the most consequence for the quality of our lives?
I think you may be surprised when I tell you that for my part, it is a little fear, much overlooked that most compromises the quality of our life. It is the fear of committment.

The fear of commitment is most common, virtually everyone has it to some degree, and it is omnipresent in our lives. Its hard to commit! And yet without commitment everything we do is lacking in depth and intensity. We do so much good in our life. Yet lacking commitment to the work that brings about the good, we are robbed of the gift our good deeds have to offer us.

There are three reasons we most often struggle to make a commitment. The first, and acceptable one, is because we fear we will make a wrong decision and then struggle to extricate ourselves. If we don't commit because we are unsure if what we may be commiting to is worthy of our investment we are being prudent and wise. But the problem with our failure to commit is when it is motivated by the two other fears. The first, if we commit now we are afraid we may miss something important that will come along later. We fear not having our options open. We won't accept today in order not to miss the 'good thing' we may later have available. That fear of commitment is pernicious and compromising. The second invalid reason we fear commitment is related to another fear, our fear of failure. We won't commit because we are afraid that if we do we may fail, and better not to commit than to commit and fail. How much of life's opportunities do we miss because of that fear of commitment/ fear of failure syndrome.

Where do we see that type of fear of commitment in action? The young man or woman who cannot seem to find the right shidduch. No matter who they date it never seems right for them. They may give all kinds of reasons why nothing has worked and lament their circumstances. They may even say its fear of making a mistake, the good kind of fear of commitment, that is holding them back. In most cases, if the truth were revealed, it might be a surprise even to them. What's in the way is not something outside themselves but inside. Their fear is of commitment, the wrong kind. They are not ready to close their options, no matter who the other was. They are afraid, in their minds, to be 'trapped'.

It happens over and over in ordinary life that our fear of commitment prevents us from investing fully, even in the good we do. Someone asks us to do a hesed, maybe to visit a homebound and infirmed elderly man or woman on a weekly basis; Or we are asked to commit to a learning seder with someone or a group; or we are inspired enough to want to take on a new healthy behavior, say regular excercise or to quit smoking. In all the above cases while we typically will be glad to do a 'one time' act, we decline to commit. Our fear of commitment and of the failure causes us to either decline invitations to growth and change or to perform without commitment. Life lived lacking commitments is a shell of a life that's lived out of commitments.
The committed are not enslaved, on the contrary, they are actually liberated. What they do is not an addendum to their life. It is their life. The more committed we are to our life's work the more alive we are. Those who live a life comprised of free moments live on the surface, they wait, and rarely experience the gift of being alive that comes with investment of self.

We stand on the eve of Rosh Hashanna. The parsha we read this week is Neetzavim-Vayelech. At the outset of the portion Moshe tells the Israelites "You are standing this day before the L-rd your G-d.....". He is about to enter them into sacred covenant with the Divine. The Zohar tells us that when the verse says "this day" it is referring to Rosh Hashanna. What's interesting to me is the terminology in the pasuk. Moshe tells them "You are 'standing'..." The term for the word 'standing' he uses is 'neetzavim'. Neetzavim has the same root as the word in Hebrew for monument, 'matzaiva'. Many of those who interpret the Torah text point out that 'neetzavim' like 'matzaiva' infers a rootedness, a standing in such a way as to be firm and planted like a monument. Yet the very next word Moshe uses is 'hayom','today'. Hayom implies temporalness, that which is transitory, only for today. How do we reconcile the use of the contradictory terms that is, standing in perpetuity as if always and yet for today? What does that say to us about Rosh Hashanna?

I believe the answer is very much in line with our discussion. True ,Moshe was telling the Israelites, you can only live day to day. You don't know what the future will bring. You don't know what capacities you will have. You don't even know what you will desire. But nonetheless you must enter this day as if it will be forever. You must give your self fully to it like a monument, 'neetzavim', rooted, committed entirelyand yes unafraid!
You cannot allow the temporality of your existence or the frailty of your will to stop you from saying "yes" when committing to the 'brit'.

This is Rosh Hashanna. All of us stand with our future in doubt. We have no future.
Its all awaiting judgement. How can we commit? How can we say "yes".
It is to that we are being challenged, "Let go of the fear and commit. True you only have today but live today with commitment to tomorrow should it come, else you will not know life at all, even today."

Life without commitment is no life. Better to commit and fail or even to miss something you may have preferred than to live in waiting.

May you and all whom you love be blessed with a new year of health, meaning, and happiness. May it be rich in commitment!

Shabbat Shalom
Shana Tova

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