Certain metaphors capture the imagination. Among the most powerful in Judaism comes from an 18th century Rabbi named Nachman.
“The whole world,” he said, “is a narrow bridge. And the most important part is not to be afraid!”
This saying has been set to music. It has been committed to memory by thousands. It has been the subject of numerous articles and even books. What does it mean?
This question challenges me now because I just returned from the town where Rabbi Nachman spent the final months of his life. It was in a massive park in this town that he encountered the bridge that led to this saying. I took the picture of it above.
Here are a few of the many possible interpretations:
1. Fear is looking down for too long: We can look around us and become paralyzed by fear. It is as if we are crossing a bridge and we look down and see the rushing water and jagged rocks below.
If we let thoughts center on those fears, we do not move. We do not live. Thus, the most important part of life is not letting those fears consume our attention. The secret to crossing the bridge is not looking down for too long.
2. Life is a journey of growth: We are constantly crossing from one state of mind, from one perspective, to another. In other words, we are always growing. Such growth can be scary.
My five-year-old daughter, for example, is excited about her upcoming birthday, but she also confessed to me recently that she is scared. Being six represents new challenges, new teachers, a new school.
Fear can stop us from crossing from who we are to who we are meant to be.
3. Transforming fear is the key to life: Rabbi Nachman believed that a life force drives each of us. We want to move forward. In spiritual terms, we yearn to move closer to God.
Fear is what stops us. It weakens the life force. It leads to self-doubt and despair. Thus, to realize our life purpose, we need to overcome it.
This is easier said than done. We cannot wish fear away. We stand on a narrow bridge.
The first step to crossing it is faith. Faith in our ability to do so, faith that the bridge will hold, faith that God beckons to us from the other side.
What do you think this saying means? How have you dealt with fear in your own life?