If life is a journey and 5780 was a road trip that started as a bucolic drive through the countryside, it eventually veered off into a dark forest ditch. It then got further kicked and rolled until it hit a cliff, and now it hangs suspended and creaking off of a boulder on a ledge where it teeters as it slowly threatens to make its descent into the frigid waters below.
What will this year bring, you ask? We have no way of knowing; we can only hope. Typically on Rosh Hashana, I am hopeful that God, in His abundance of mercy and kindness, has a good year in store for all of us.
I accept Hashem as sovereign.
I make good resolutions.
And still, if I look back and notice that it was a challenging year for me, I take comfort in knowing that it was a great year for someone else. But this past year was unusual for everyone, with many real hardships and many actual deaths.
Amidst the pandemic’s chaos and drama, where can I find the hopefulness and joy that I need (this Rosh Hashana more than ever) to center myself? The hopefulness and joy I need to manifest into my year ahead?
I search within and without for something.
It’s been a scary year, and fear is rampant with the pandemic, elections, economy, racial tensions, etc.
Fear is a necessary (uncomfortable) emotion that can be good or bad.
If I am running in Piedmont Park and suddenly realize that I am in a wooded area alone, my fear of getting mugged will cause me to run faster to a more lit or populated place. In this way, my fear protects me from a potential attack and empowers me to think of myself as competent and capable.
So when is fear disempowering and debilitating? When there is no real danger—such as the fear of rejection and disapproval. This kind of fear gets in the way of living our best life; this is the kind of fear that cripples productivity and inhibits happiness and hope.
We get into this pattern of unhealthy fear when we attribute power to things and people. It is a co-dependency with the universe that says: anyone or anything that can make me, can break me.
In reality, it is me — my power. And I get it from God. And God doesn’t break me.
The mystics teach us that on the holy day of the coronation, on Rosh Hashana itself, the world is imbued with the ability to gather into our being all of the healthy empowering awe and fear of heaven, the kind of fear that saves lives.
If we are aware of this energy (mindful of it because it is unseeable, thus harder to access, yet, easier on Rosh Hashana) our soul can tap into the power of Hashem in our lives. Collecting this energy, and then using its strength when fearful, is what subdues the angst, timidity and rankling self-doubt that runs rampant. With this knowledge, I will center myself on Rosh Hashana; I will place my trust in God’s hands, for He alone is worthy of my awe. There is hope. There is joyfulness.
Dena Schusterman is a founder of Chabad Intown and founding director of the Intown Jewish Preschool and Intown Hebrew School.