By Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder / rabbiruth@gmail.com

Earlier this summer, while on vacation, I found myself standing at the foot of a very narrow bridge.

The setting could not have been more wonderful. The beauty of the Costa Rican rain forest was accompanied by a vibrant live soundtrack of birds, monkeys and insects.

Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder

Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder

It took over an hour of driving on unpaved, narrow, at times quite muddy roads to get to this particular spot. But the advice of the Israeli expat local had been that it was worth the trip because the waterfall at this location was exceptional.

But between me and the waterfall was a very narrow bridge.

My whole life, I have suffered from a fear of heights. As a child, I watched Toronto’s CN Tower go up and was so proud to live so close to what was then the world’s tallest building. And yet, when we would take visitors up to the tower, I would stay as close as I could to the center; the fear of heights overshadowed the majesty of the view or the awe of the engineering.

As I grew up, I chose to admire the CN Tower only from afar, and I generally avoid high places.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav famously said the whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the crux of the matter is not to be afraid, not to have any fear at all.

Fear serves a profound purpose. It is in part what keeps us from doing stupid things.

I was reminded of this point this summer as I listened to my teen report on what she had learned in her driver’s education class. The majority of the time in the classroom seemed devoted to instilling a healthy dose of fear in these future drivers by exposing them to the potentially horrific consequences of driving unsafely.

I’m happy to report that justly fearful, my teen is committed to forgoing the use of a cellphone while driving. I only wish more Georgia drivers shared her fear.

But standing at the edge of the narrow bridge, I was acutely aware of the ability of fear to destroy. Having overcome the obstacles of the road, having walked in the rain, I had no way to reach the waterfall other than to go over that narrow bridge.

Rav Nachman was right. It is possible to see the whole world as a narrow bridge. To let fear, consciously and more often unconsciously, shape what we do and how we think.

Having no fear does not mean removing all danger, but it does mean that we do not let it control us. For even if the whole world is a narrow bridge that holds the potential of collapsing and falling, we push forward. We do not let fear get in our way.

While the other members of my family contemplated what we should do, I began to slowly and painfully walk across, fortified by singing Rav Nachman’s refrain: not to have any fear at all. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Arriving at the other side, we met a local guide, who, upon hearing that we had driven to this place on our own, declared us adventurous. We only laughed, knowing that the hardest part had been not the road, but the narrow bridge.

The waterfall was as perfect as promised: beautiful, clear, unspoiled and uncrowded. I luxuriated in the experience of this place and thanked G-d for its existence.

I returned with more confidence. Singing still, I stole small glances at the deep gorge below.

Back in the relative safety and familiarity of my life in Atlanta, I keep returning to that day in my mind, wondering about other narrow bridges and the fears that keep me from experiences on the other side — and hoping that I have the courage not to fear at all.