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?
One of the Bible’s most resounding commandments is “do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds.” I’ve been thinking a lot about this verse lately.
I’ve thought about it in the context of gun violence. But it’s also challenged me on a deeper level. Does anyone care about the bloodshed happening in Syria?
While admitting lack of knowledge of the variables of foreign policy, I was saddened that President Obama did not mention it in his otherwise moving inaugural address.
Who will speak up for the tens of thousands of students and families slaughtered by one dictator? Are they our neighbors? And if so, can we continue to stand idly by?
Some might say that they are not our neighbors. They live in a different part of the world, with different rules and cultures. We only create more problems when we get involved in other people’s affairs.
The Last Best Hope of Man
I respect that point of view. Yet, we can still speak out. American influence does not rest solely in tanks and dollars. It derives from our moral stature, our history as what Abraham Lincoln called the “last best hope of man on earth.”
I write not as a diplomat, soldier or politician. Their points of view must shape our thinking.
Yet, I speak as someone who knows that so many failed to speak out when millions were slaughtered in Nazi Germany, in Armenia, in Rwanda. How can we stand idly by while our neighbor bleeds?
Love Your Neighbor
How do we know the Syrians are our neighbors? The answer can be found in a famous debate in the Talmud, the book of Jewish law, written 1500 years ago.
Quoting the biblical verse, “love thy neighbor as thyself,” the talmudic sages asked the question, “Who is our neighbor? Is it just someone who lives in the same community? Is it someone of our religion or ethnicity?”
Their answer: Your neighbor is your fellow human being, created in the image of God.
God Is Bigger Than Any One Religion
In other words, God is bigger than any one religion. God is larger than any one group. Each person created in the image of God is our neighbor.
We have responsibilities to our neighbors. When we feel their pain, we begin to open our hearts. It’s time to open our hearts to Syria. It’s time to speak out.
By Evan Moffic
Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey has left many people wondering. Was it genuine? Why did he wait so long? Can those he hurt forgive him? Will he ever compete again?
Each of us probably has differing responses to these questions. As a member of the clergy, what interests me is two-fold. Why did Lance Armstrong decide to confess publicly to Opera Winfrey? And , assuming he is genuine, can those he hurt forgive him?
Lance Armstrong was very wise to decide to make his public confession to Oprah. She represents a peculiarly American kind of secular religion, where people can try to find forgiveness and work through pain and sorrow. She is kind and understanding, but not obsequious.
In a way, Oprah acts as a corrective to what is often wrong with religion in America today. So often we focus on the fire and brimstone message of religion. What must you believe? Are you saved or not? What did you do to deserve your suffering?
Oprah’s message is more hopeful. She includes rather than excludes, and seeks to understand rather than condemn. She offers encouragement rather than blame. Without watering down our faith, we pastors, priests and rabbis need to do the same thing.
Trust Comes Before Forgiveness
Then question of forgiveness is more complicated. Both Christianity and Judaism teach forgiveness. It is a religious duty and helps build a more dignified and godly world.
It also takes time. And it takes an acceptance of responsibility. What makes it difficult for many to forgive Armstrong is that he denied the doping charges so vociferously and for so long!
Finding forgiveness begins with regaining trust. People need to trust Lance Armstrong; trust that he has changed, and trust that his remorse is genuine.
He is an extraordinary man with a lot to give. Will he have the character to do so? I pray that he does, but the jury is still out.
By Evan Moffic
Friends, I had a fabulous conversation on Fox News with my friend Father Jonathan Morris. We touched on not only on gun violence, but on the role of God and religion in politics. I thought you might enjoy the clip. Articles coming soon on Lance Armstrong and forgiveness. All the best, Evan
What do you think? Leave your thoughts below in the Comments Section.
By Evan Moffic