When I was five years old, said the Baal Shemtov, both my mother and father passed away. Before my father, Eliezer’s passing; he called me to his side and told me “Yisrael, fear no one but G‑d. Love your fellow with all your heart and soul, no matter who he/she is." These two directives served as the basis for Yisrael's service of G‑d and future teachings.
We fear many things. We fear illness and death. We fear losing a job or falling into poverty. We fear change – a new career, a new home, a new marriage. We may fear being alone, or we may fear other people. And then there is the fear of not being accepted by others – by our families and friends, our colleagues and neighbors, by society at large.
Fear, anxiety, and depression are the underlying factors that drive much of human behavior today, yet they are among the most misunderstood forces in people’s lives. In their most acute form, the paralyze us. How can we deal with these forces? Why are we afraid and what are we afraid of?
These are not simple questions to answer, for fear is tremendous and complicated power. It is silent yet devastating, leading to anxiety and, ultimately, depression. When you are consumed by fear, your judgment is distorted; you become frozen by doubt, unable to make the simplest decision.
Most human anxiety springs from a fear of annihilation: you fear losing the world around you, the world to which you are so accustomed. Think of a child who has but one toy – take it away, and the child will surely cry. Similarly, when people perceive the material world as the only world that exists, they are bound to fear losing it, because it’s all they know.
Let us look at how limited this attitude is. By its nature, materialism is fleeting. The food you ate yesterday is gone today. The money you make today will be spent tomorrow. The status and power you have worked so hard to achieve can be wiped out in a moment. When your life is built on such temporary foundation, how can you expect to feel secure?
Making the material world our priority is the ultimate cause of fear and anxiety. Even as we shed the many fears of childhood, we develop an entirely new set of fears. Instead of being scared of the dark, we become frightened of not making enough money. Or of losing a job. Or of not being successful enough.
Consider this: As long as we place the highest premium on the material world, we are likely to continue to be fearful and anxious. It is further likely that we will remain a victim of circumstance, subjected to the mercurial nature of materialism.
We have nothing to fear except the Superpower we call G-d, why? Because nothing is as real as “It”. As our sages said it, “May you fear G-d as much as you fear man.” “Fear of G-d” is not actually fear at all, but an awe and respect for a Higher presence in our life – and recognition that the Higher presence chose you and I to fill a specific role in refining the world.
When you feel despondent or afraid, contemplate this point, when you fear that you won’t be able to handle a particular challenge or setback, think about the force which made you and wants of you.
Partially adapted from toward a meaningful life by S. Jacobson