This is the first of four follow-up articles on the many facets of fear including a four-part Interview/Special Report with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of Palm Beach Synagogue.
After I wrote about the paralysis of fear, its’ numbing effects, and resultant feelings of powerlessness, it was pointed out to me that there was another, more intentional, response to fear beyond freeze, fight, and flight. That response is loving persistence or courageous non-violence. It is evidenced in the Sermon on the Mount, as Jesus called for his followers when confronted by fear and violence to turn the other cheek. This was not an instruction of pacifism. Turning the other cheek was about demanding equality from a person of authority. This is the most measured and effective action that can be taken when fear, anger, and aggression show up.
Courageous non-violent cheek turners were named by Columbia University’s School of Journalism as 2019 Pulitzer Prize winners on Monday, April 15th. One award went to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for exposing failings by officials before and after the deadly shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Another went to Staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for immersive, compassionate coverage of the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that captured the anguish and resilience of a community thrust into grief. These journalists stood strong for their communities and for us all in the face of fear and anger. They exposed the truth and rejected the lure of moving on to other stories. They refused to numb out. The parent of a Parkland victim wrote South Florida Sun-Sentinel after Pulitzers were announced encouraging the paper to continue its’ work saying there was still much to be done. He can rest assured that they will carry on.
It takes a lot of guts to persist, to remain steadfast, and to overcome. A courageous cheek turner must have the resolve of Gandhi, who when confronted by his jailers with threats intended to invoke fear replied; “They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then they will have my dead body, but not my obedience.” But this is exactly the kind of response which will defeat fear in its’ tracks. We shall overcome. It is the essence of love. And love refuses to capitulate. It will not retaliate-in-kind. It will not run away. it will not numb out. Love is an action-choice made by the brave soul who finally rejects all notions of self in deference to the greater good.
Fear is everywhere. Stoked by sensationalist media and greedy politicians, it is pervasive at schools, work and even in places of worship. Armed security guards and electronic scanning devices stand at too many doorways. Fear keeps showing up. The universal message of all the major religions and traditions tell us to “Be Not Afraid” as we struggle to overcome and transcend this new reality. Perhaps the only way to do so is by turning at this critical crossroad toward the spiritual path of love and acceptance.
“We can escape fear’s paralysis and enter a state of grace where encounters with otherness will not threaten us but will enrich our work and our lives.” ~ Parker Palmer
I recently wrote about the manifestation of fear as we reeled in grief from the killing of 49 people, and devastation of their families and communities in mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques. Fear ignites the anger and hatred which causes such horrific violence. Of course we witness this fear every day in smaller increments. It is found in anguished faces of victims, hardened eyes of gang members and calls for retaliatory vengeance from our leaders. Love is absent. And without love there is little hope. My belief is that we cannot begin to cast out fear and understand love until we accept, include, and embrace those who are different from ‘us’. We cannot love God until we love our neighbors.
Our fears are not our identity. They do not have to be the emotional director of how we react and respond to each other. We can choose to reject fear and to choose love instead. In times when fear floods in or darkens our self-narrative, it feels like there is little to do but fight or run away. But the wisdom of Pope John XXIII stands in opposition to this primal instinct. He told us to ‘consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams’. For when we find the strength to choose love we will find a new freedom and a new happiness which embolden our hopes and dreams. We will have lost the need to defend our fragile egos and discovered our true selves.
Three Ways to Choose Love Over Fear
Conscious Living Coach, Lindsay Robin Christianson writes about the good basic tools to be used when choosing to love in the face of fear. Her contribution will help in dealing with fear in everyday life.
Fight and flight responses are generally recognized and accepted as the norm when it comes to fear. We are all familiar with them. Just like the boys in the 1983 classic movie “A Christmas Story” so comically portrays, a bully pops up and we run as fast as possible to get away. But at some point, perhaps when enough is enough, just like Ralphie, our rage becomes a fight for our lives.
But fight and flight are not the only behaviors that follow fear. A kind of numbing paralysis known as freeze is more common than we recognize. Often mistaken as cowardice, apathy, laziness or even collusion, this third survival response has gripped so many people in our times of increasing fear.
When we cannot seem to defeat or outrun the predator a ‘deer in the headlights’ freeze response can be life-saving. Helpless to do anything about a horribly dangerous situation, we dissociate from what is going on. Over the years in my work as a clinical counselor, kids and adults showed up completely numbed out in my offices. They had been diagnosed with a variety of anxiety disorders when more often than not were actually showing symptoms of the freeze response.
It manifests in those who are sexually abused, those suffering from substance use disorders, PTSD, and in battered spouse syndrome to name a few. Chronic dread, panic, and terror rob them of the ability to stay in the present. Available resources become impossible to access. Being paralyzed allows them to not feel the horror of what is (or seems to be) happening. This can go on for years, long after the menacing situation has disappeared.
“They’re used to self-medicating. They’re used to escape. They want to find that place where they can’t see their pain from.” ~
In ever more anxious times, the tendency to numb out is also increasing. It seems quite likely that our over-reliance upon screens, drugs, alcohol and other ‘addictions’ are freeze responses to chronic fear exposure. Mass shootings, threats of terrorism and a cacophony of negative talk coming from everywhere including the pulpit have created a sense of helplessness and a need to disconnect.
We must begin to understand this if we are to empower ourselves to change what is happening. Our power has not been taken away even though it may appear to have been. This is a time to encourage action in those who are isolating. Together we can overcome the powerlessness caused by fear and fear mongers. The solution is not complicated. Here is the message; Bring an abundance of love to the table. Fear cannot coexist with love. Do something to help and do it now.
Ask for Help
NOTE: It cannot be emphasized too strongly that those who are suffering from trauma and clinical dissociation caused by fear must seek the assistance of professional helpers to get relief and to return from being missing in action. They cannot pull themselves up by the bootstraps nor can they just get over it. Trauma resolution is possible using such therapies as Trauma Informed Care among others.
The presence of fear is chronicled every time we connect with our various forms of media. As we absorb these many reports it would appear that there is an endless abundance of fear and anger as well as the hateful, immature responses to those emotions. These are not the simple fears we are so attached to which involve our social skills, intimacy, performance or likeableness. Those anxieties seem to come with the human package. The fear that is consuming us is fear of ‘the other’.
When we fear the other our first act is to provide a label to distinguish ‘them’ from ‘us’. No matter how seemingly innocent, when we label someone, there is a degradation which occurs. It can infer superiority or inferiority, but always implies that the one being labeled is different. The 1968 Musical, ‘Hair’, had a song entitled “Colored Spade” which listed twenty-one different labels used in American slang to identify black people.
It was hard to hear despite the ending in which the singer declares that he is now the President of The United State of Love. There is an indictment of labeling which stings the soul in that song.
“We create labels because in defining the world around us, we somehow feel more secure. Yet labels also affect the way we see ourselves and others. Beyond security and certainty, they bring division and divisiveness.” ~ Colleen Gibson
The labels themselves become touchstones of fear used by politicians and others to manipulate us. Even in this time of great prosperity, we are anxious about our security. We start to become more and more watchful of one another. Soon, the watchfulness becomes hyper-vigilance and finally becomes paranoia. The gang member is going to assault me. The immigrant is going to take away my job. The addict may break into my home and take my valuables. The black man walking in my neighborhood may steal my car. That strangely dressed woman with a baby might be a terrorist with a bomb. We settle for fear, act out with angry aggression, or create laws to exclude such people.
We cannot find safety and security in dividing ourselves into categories. We cannot find peace by separating from those who are not like us. We cannot truly love our neighbor if we hate their beliefs or customs. God supplies us with one label and dreams that we will someday apply it to all of his children. God calls us ‘the beloved’ and creates us as brothers and sisters. God puts us on even ground. placing nobody ahead and nobody behind. God loves us all in ways which we will never fully understand. With that truth as a light to follow, we can easily let go of our need to fear, label, and divide. In the final analysis, it is blasphemous. We have an opportunity today to celebrate our rich diversity and our common humanity. We can join together to become one family, under one sky, beloved from all eternity.
Learn More About Fear and Labeling
Fear and anger physiologically are very similar, with virtually the same effects on the autonomic nervous system with respect to cardiovascular and respiratory measures (Kreibig, 2010). Similar physiology that is part of the development of one emotion can lead naturally to the other. Adam Alter of Psychology Today writes a good piece on labeling which I invite you to read and share. It is entitled “Why It’s Dangerous to Label People” and can be found by following this link.
5 Dangers of Labels and Stereotypes:
Dr. Nathaniel Lambert published a book about the five dangers of labels called “Standing up for Standing Out: Making the most of Being Different” which can be found both in Kindle or hard copy. It is well worth the read.
Part Four of Contributing Editor Bob Jones’ conversation with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of the Palm Beach Synagogue in Florida.
In this forth and final part of our conversation, Rabbi Scheiner shares how simple acts of gratitude remain life’s most timeless solution to fear and anger.
Bob Jones: Each encounter is sacred.
Rabbi Scheiner: Exactly. It’s like different facets of God’s image on
earth. No one person has the totality of
God’s image we’re all particles so to speak.
We’re all fragments of God’s image on earth. And until we unite with our fellow man, we
can’t complete God’s image on earth. And
that idea of we’re incomplete without each other…that you complete me and I
complete you… this is the greatest gift.
One of the challenges that I think we’re facing today is we
have so much abundance. My father has a
great quote he likes to say; “The only thing today’s kids are the deprived of is deprivation.”
We have so much abundance that we start taking everything for granted. And what our daily prayers do gives us moments to reflect and to be grateful. And Judaism does it in the most magnificent way. I mean we don’t put a sip of water in our mouth without thanking God for the water. We don’t put a morsel of food in our mouths without thanking God for the food. If we sit down to a meal in Judaism and we have five different food types…we make five different blessings.
We don’t just say, ‘God, thank you for the food. We say, ‘Thank you for the drink. Thank you for the fruit. Thank you.’
When we get sick we could have a headache, we could have a stomachache, we could have something worse (God forbid). Suddenly we appreciate our health. You don’t have to wait until you’re in the hospital to realize how grateful you should be that your body is healthy.
I was with an elderly man yesterday. He’s having shortness of breath if he walks from his couch to his kitchen he’s panting, right? But we go through our day taking millions and millions of breaths. We never have shortness of breath and we never stop to think about it. The list goes on and on and on.
And so if you are blind and one day you open your eyes and they were working you would be screaming from joy in the light. Well, every day when you open your eyes there’s a blessing, “God, thank you very much for opening my eyes today because I don’t take for granted that I have this amazing camera in my brain that’s able to see in color.” So it’s a daily challenge because human nature is that we take things for granted.
God, thank you very much for opening my eyes today because I don’t take for granted that I have this amazing camera in my brain that’s able to see in color.
Rabbi Moshe Scheiner
So instead of being angry and envious and bitter about life, and like I said, I do believe anger and fear comes from, insecurity…comes from lack of joy. The solution is to find more joy in your life. Find things to be more grateful. Don’t be envious of someone else because look how many blessings you have in your life.
And so I think spiritual values and teachings are essential and I think what we’re seeing today is just because the spiritual waters have receded and so all the filth that lies at the bottom of human nature, so to speak, is being revealed. Hatred has always been around. Obviously it’s human frailty that causes that, and tribalism, and then fear of the stranger.
Bob Jones: I was a practicing psychologist for 45 years and I have imagined that much of our anger comes from being a stranger to our own wounds which sort of goes along with what you were saying. We are so privileged, and abundances so abundant that we never look at our own wounds. We don’t see our own woundedness, and as a result can’t identify with the wounds of the other and that’s a regrettable thing. I think a lot anger comes from that along with all of the abuse and trauma.
Rabbi Scheiner: There’s a story that comes to mind.
It was from a great Rabbi. He once looked out the window and he saw his kids playing a game and they were saying who’s taller? So one kid stood up in a box to say I’m taller, so the other brother pushed him off the box and the Rabbi called them into his study, his two children, and he said to them, ‘Always remember, you don’t make yourself taller by knocking someone else down’. Sometimes when we feel that we have to criticize others and diminish others in order to raise ourselves up, and that never is the case. The only way to make yourself taller is actually becoming a better person.
Sometimes we’re afraid of our shadow you know.
When a horse goes down to the water to drink, it starts to kick up dust, right? And why do horses do that? They start stomping their feet and kicking off dust? And the answer is because when the looks into the water it sees its own reflection, but it thinks there’s another horse trying to drink its water. So it starts stomping its foot to kick away to drive away the other horse. And when he kicks up dust it muddies the water and then it no longer sees the reflection of the other horse. Then it starts to drink.
What the horse doesn’t realize is that first of all there’s no one else drinking their water.
Second of all, that God has enough water in the world for all of the horses.
And third of all, by kicking up the dust all that they’re doing is muddying their own waters.
It’s a parable for human beings. Sometimes when we feel someone else is a threat to us and sometimes it’s physical threat in business. This guy is my competition. he’s going to take away my business. Sometimes it’s a spiritual threat. This person or this religion is going to supplant mine or whatever.
We don’t realize that God has enough love and enough room for all of us and all of our beliefs and all of our relationships. And there’s no one else trying to take what’s yours because everyone has their spiritual path and destiny and purpose and it’s uniquely yours. Nobody could take it away from you. No one could infringe on it, encroach on it. And when we do what we do…like kicking up dust and muddying up the waters we’re just making our own water impure.
So we should invite friendship, camaraderie, fellowship, brotherhood, love and realize that God put us all here in this world and he has enough room for all of our worship and we should find the bridges that connect us because what we have in common is obviously much greater than what divides us.
Bob Jones: Beautifully said. Rabbi Moshe Scheiner. Thank you for your hard work.
Rabbi Scheiner: My pleasure and I look forward to seeing the
article. It’s an honor getting to know you maybe one day we’ll meet in
person. God bless you, all the best.
Part Three of Contributing Editor Bob Jones’ conversation with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of the Palm Beach Synagogue in Florida.
In this third part of our conversation, Rabbi Moshe Scheiner reflects on raising children in a time of fearful expressions of anti-Semitism, armed security at places of worship, joy and the image of God
Bob Jones: You’re the father of six children?
Rabbi Scheiner: Yeah.
Bob Jones: How have you prepared your own kids to meet the anger, fear and hatred of anti-Semitism?
Rabbi Scheiner: I’ve raised my kids to be very proud Jews. The first thing is obviously never cower in the face of anti-Semitism. My children, like myself, walk around with a yarmulke on their head. We never try to camouflage or to fit in. We believe in the dignity of different. And we should respect every religion, every good creed, race, religion. Because like I said, we could all learn from each other.
Every religion, every culture, every society has wonderful positive things and we all need each other. And so my children are ambassadors of Judaism in this world. That’s what God gave them as their role and they should wear that proudly. Their faith in God should not be invisible. It should be visible not just in their physical appearance, but in their speech, in their thought, in their deeds and that’s what we do.
There has to be ambassadors of God on earth, and yes people will hate you for it, and we paid a price over the millennium for being Jewish. But, it’s a sacrifice we’re happy to make because it’s the source of the greatest blessing of our life. And when children have confidence and belief in who they are and pride in who they are, then they have no fear of others. And if they encounter people who are hateful…we have pity on them, we have mercy for them, and pray for them that they should be enlightened rather than be vengeful and hateful that God should enlighten their souls and their eyes to see the good. And we always have our kids kill them with kindness.
The greatest goal is that when we force our enemy to acknowledge, whether they verbally admit it or at least inside themselves, that ‘you know what…I hate this Jew, but I have to admit he’s a pretty good person’. So you just do the right thing time and again, and you open their eyes through your goodness. At the same time obviously we have to be practical about it and we have to extend and protect ourselves.
For the first 23 years we never even thought of having a security guard at Sabbath services. It breaks my heart.
Rabbi Moshe Scheiner
We live in a world which is becoming increasingly more dangerous. And I’ll just tell you that I’ve been a Rabbi now 25 years. For the first 23 years we never even thought of having a security guard at Sabbath services. It breaks my heart that in the past few years it’s necessary for when people come to synagogue to see security guards with a gun standing at the door at the sanctuary. That shouldn’t be the case.
What kind of a world is this that you can’t come pray in freedom. That’s not what our founding fathers envisioned. They envisioned freedom of religion. The fact that there has to be an element of fear for just coming to a house to worship…we all saw what happened on October 27th in Pittsburgh at The Tree of Life Congregation where eleven Jews were murdered in cold blood just for coming to pray on a day of peace and on a day of rest.
So that fact that the world is becoming more dangerous and more filled with anger and violence and hatred or the school shooting we saw Parkland here in Florida where 16 young beautiful children were murdered because of a person who was filled with rage and anger. I think we do have to ask ourselves what is causing this anger in young people. And clearly, when the person is happy you know they’re not angry. I always use analogy.
If you’re angry at someone right? And all of the sudden you win the lottery and you won $23,000,000 and your enemy who you hate walks into the room you just probably hug him and kiss him because you’re so happy just won the lottery that there’s no room for anger in your life, you’re just happy. So people who are angry and people who are fearful of others…I don’t think they’re happy people because if you’re really happy you’re a loving person. When you’re dancing at your child’s wedding and your enemy walks in and puts out their hand you’re still so happy you’ll dance with them because at the moment of joy and happiness and love there’s no room to hate.
So people who are filled with anger and rage usually don’t have love in their life and they usually don’t have happiness. Because if you really want to get to the root of the problem you have to ask yourself; Why are people so angry? Why they’re so unhappy? Why don’t they find fulfillment? Why is society so shallow today that it’s not giving people real spiritual fulfillment and meaning and purpose.
A lot of times psychologists talk about this as well as something called projection where we project our own fault unto others. It’s a Hasidic teaching that every person is a mirror to yourself to your own soul. And when you see something in someone else that you don’t like it is usually because you could identify with it because it’s really something inside you. They often tell people when you point a finger at someone else you’re pointing three fingers back at yourself.
First examine your own deeds before you point fingers at others. So I think that the culture has become very superficial, very shallow, very meaningless. And if it’s all material driven then when it comes to materialism, you could always feel…well this person is taking something that’s mine that I should be having.
That’s why, take hatred towards immigrants for example, ‘Oh, they’re coming into our country they’re taking our money and taking our jobs’. I’m not saying that it doesn’t have to be a legal and a healthy, pragmatic approach for dealing with this, but this fear of the stranger, the fear of the foreigner that they’re going to take something of yours.
In material things there is a zero sum gain which means if I have $2 and you take $1. I have $1. I can’t have $2 and give you $1 because in material things there’s only a limited of supply. But when it comes to spiritual things if you love someone else you have more love. If you love 10 people it doesn’t diminish your love and increases the love that you have in your heart.
The more you give the more you have in spiritual matters. The more you teach other people the more knowledge you have. And that’s true in every area of spirituality. The Talmud says if you have a candle with a flame and you light a hundred candles you don’t have less fire, you don’t have less light on your candle on the country.
Now, you have more light in your world because there is a hundred lit candles. So when we share a goodness, when we share love we multiply our blessings and therefore the next person is not a threat to me, but they’re an opportunity for me to increase my own happiness and my own love and my own light. And they say you make a living by what you get, but you make a life at what you give. And we should cherish the others because the other is the one that gives me an opportunity to expand my soul and to find greater happiness and love and meaning and fulfillment in my life, because real happiness in life doesn’t come from material things.
We all know that. Those are temporary and fleeting. Real happiness comes from meaning, from purpose, from love, from connections with others, from connections to God, from sacrifice. Sometimes the greatest joy in life comes from that which we sacrifice for others. So if someone is in need and you make a sacrifice for them, that just makes your life more rich. Maybe you gave away something, but you have more because you gave. So I think the perspective on life, the perspective on others that every human being is created in the image of God, just because the next person is not like you, they are still just like you.
Bob Jones: The image of God.
Rabbi Scheiner: The image of God. So, they may not be created in your image, but they’re created in God’s image which is the same as your image. So more than ever before I think that spiritual values in teachings is important in the education of children and that’s how we raise our children. We try to give them a healthy diet. A healthy diet is a balanced diet.
You can’t just teach a kid only about how to make money and how to be successful. Most of the schooling is about the how of life. You have to teach them the whys, the meaning, the purpose behind it all. And therefore not just at the home, but in the school, you know there’s a balanced approach to education and not only towards material skills and physical life skills and knowledge, but spiritual knowledge and spiritual values.
Because what we’re seeing today whether it’s epidemic with drugs and opioids and all of that is, why would people do these things if not for the fact that they feel a great void, a great dissonance, a great craving and yearning for something to fulfill them.
Your highest goal for you children is you want them to have meaning in their life.
Rabbi Moshe Scheiner
Material things and pleasure and the hedonistic lifestyle don’t fulfill you. I mean Judaism doesn’t have a problem with pleasure. We believe God created pleasure for our enjoyment like a loving parent wants a child have pleasure in life. But the greatest ideal for your children is not that they should have a pleasurable life. You want them to have pleasure in life, too, but your highest goal for your children is you want them to have meaning in their life, you want them to have fulfillment, you want them to have happiness. And that comes through action, that comes through connection, that comes through accomplishments, that comes through sacrifice.
Your ultimate goal for them is to have a meaningful life, a productive life an accomplished life. So your kid says to you; ‘I get pleasure from playing video games so I’m just going to spend the rest of my life playing video games.’ You’re not going to be happy about that and then when your kid says; ‘Don’t you want me to be happy? That makes me happy. I play video games all day.’ Yeah, but that’s not why God put you in this world to play video games all day. There must be a higher purpose to your soul. So we all know the goal of life is not just to enjoy life.
That’s a byproduct of life that it’s beautiful and it’s magnificent and it’s pleasurable. But there’s a deeper spiritual meaning to life and I think that’s what we have to teach our children, and then automatically the fear will dissipate because we’ll see that.
I’ll tell you a story. There was a Rabbi who was once driving with his student of his and they came to a tollbooth and had an Easy Pass to go through the tollbooth. And the Rabbi pointed that he should go to the booth that has a teller…like a person taking money. And the student was like, ‘But I have the Easy Pass. I could just zip right through. Why would I stop?’ And the Rabbi said, ‘You have a chance to interact with a machine or with a human being created in the image of God. How could you pass up an opportunity to say good morning or to say hello or to smile at God’s reflection here on earth?’
Bob Jones: That’s beautiful.
Rabbi Scheiner: That’s a very powerful story. Every human being now…we look at the people in the teller booth like what could be a worse job than sitting in a little cubicle. We don’t have a lot of respect for these people. We don’t think of them as the most important people. But what this Rabbi were saying is every human being…no matter what…we shouldn’t just be with famous people, powerful people, influential people, wealthy people, successful people.
Every human being you encounter is God’s image on earth. How could you pass up an opportunity to say hello, to talk to, to smile, to do something good for another human being? When you have that perspective on life you have joy just walking down the street saying good morning to people because you’re encountering God’s image every second.
Bob Jones: It’s that Thomas Merton experience. We’re all sacred. We are all shining like the sun.
Robert Kenneth Jones
ChaplainUSA Contributing Editor
Bob Jones has dedicated his life to making people whole again. His work in helping others overcome addiction and childhood abuse spans over four decades.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered us his four basic freedoms. The fourth being freedom from fear. It is fear which keeps us from experiencing life to the fullest. We withdraw into the places of safety that shut out the rest of the world.
We retreat from the things that threaten us. The intensity of fear, as it increases, draws us back further and further until we are known only to ourselves. Finally, we are not engaged at all. We are only surviving.
“All hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and openhearted vision of people who embrace life.” ~ John Lennon
Fear can be overcome in the presence of a passionate mission. With such a mission we reject the notion of survival and thrive despite fear. Passion is fueled by love which is the antithesis of fear. And passion is at the very heart of excitement. We can be so excited about the present moment with all of its possibilities that fear is pushed aside. We move through it and beyond it because our mission is more important than anything else.
Lou Gehrig and Jim Valvano are wonderful models of what it means to face certain death and ruthless pain with fearlessness. One had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and the other had cancer. Both continued to thrive and overcome every day to the very end. Gehrig’s ‘Luckiest Man’ speech at Yankee Stadium, and his baseball clinics for kids being treated at Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota shine for us decades after his death. Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech inspires young and old alike. It serves to fund cancer research efforts through the V Foundation. He simply tells us; “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” These are words to guide us. They are examples of great passion. They direct us to live it well and to live it without succumbing to fear.
Part Two of Contributing Editor Bob Jones’ conversation with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of the Palm Beach Synagogue in Florida.
In this second part of our conversation, Rabbi Scheiner explores fear as the basis for anger, envy, and hatred.
Bob Jones: On Thursday, The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning “hateful expressions of intolerance.” This resolution was originally designed to condemn anti-Semitism but expanded to include all who are victimized by bigotry. Though I applaud the effort, it seems to have watered down the initial intent to singularly call out and condemn anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Scheiner: Yes. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think they lacked the courage to do the right thing, and for political purposes they chose to water it down and not to name the person they were really responding to, and identify what the issue is.
You know, one of the reasons behind the anti-Semitism, or for that matter all hatred, is envy. Usually when people hate other people there’s very often an element of envy involved which creates a sense of insecurity in the person whose envy is of another person, and therefore chooses to hate the person. And surely that’s true with anti-Semitism directed at us Jews, but in many other forms of interpersonal relationships, the hatred and the anger comes from a sense of envy.
What we have to learn is that there is negative envy and positive envy. The negative envy is when you envy someone’s material possessions like the Tenth Commandment: ‘Do not covet your neighbors’ material things’…his wife, his house, his donkey, whatever it may be…and to translate that into today’s modern terms whatever the material thing is.
And there’s no question that a lot of anti-Semitism comes from the fact that Jewish people obviously have outlived all their enemies despite countless attempts to destroy us.
There’s something about the Jewish people and their resilience and their perseverance and their connection to their heritage to God.
And instead of hating the Jews for that success, for that ability to overcome so many powers of nations, of tyranny, of oppression, of persecution, holocaust, programs, inquisitions…I mean you name it. It’s an opportunity to those who are hating to say, ‘What could the Jewish people teach us? What could they share with us? What wisdom do they have? What knowledge? What experience?
What is it that makes them the way they are?’ And I would say that’s true in any envy in interpersonal relationships. Translate envy into something positive rather than turning to hate.
Use it to love the person to say thank you for being an inspiration for me because we all are influenced by others for better or for worse. And so when we encounter people that are good, that rubs off on us.
We have a big holiday coming up in less than two weeks called Purim. It is a story that happened some two and a half thousand years ago. It’s a story about Haman and you would think; okay that was two and a half thousand years ago we were in a primitive world, but today we’re sophisticated, we’re advanced, we’re knowledgeable, we’re educated. But, we have Hitler who comes along in 1930’s and tries to do what Haman did two and a half thousand years ago.
And today we see again nations like Iran. So the story of the hate and enmity towards Jews, and the desire to destroy them continues. The Jews didn’t do anything to attack Haman. They didn’t do anything to attack Hitler, and didn’t do anything to harm Iran. All these three instances are baseless hatred. It’s not a hatred I could understand…that someone’s threatening you. You may hate them because they’re trying to harm you. But Jews never try to harm the King of Persia, they never try to harm Germany. They were both citizens and contributing to the society. And surely Israel has never tried to do anything to harm Iran but you just see this irrational hatred and what else can you contribute it to accept envy.
Bob Jones: Envy, fear, and anger I suppose.
Rabbi Scheiner: Yes.
Robert Kenneth Jones
ChaplainUSA Contributing Editor
Bob Jones has dedicated his life to making people whole again. His work in helping others overcome addiction and childhood abuse spans over four decades.
Part One of Contributing Editor Bob Jones’ conversation with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of the Palm Beach Synagogue in Florida.
It’s everywhere you look; rampant school shootings, a massacre at a synagogue, leaders spouting angry rhetoric and our own heated exchanges on social media.
America, land of the free and home of the brave, appears to be in the grip of fear and anger. The question is why and what can we do about it.
As I searched the internet for some perspective on this epidemic of fear, I happened upon a video of Rabbi Moshe Scheiner entitled Anger: Fear Announced.
Rabbi Moshe Scheiner Story
Twenty five years ago, Rabbi Scheiner and his wife Rebbetzin Dinie Scheiner founded Palm Beach Synagogue (PBS) where their mission has been one of outreach and inclusiveness. The Palm Beach Daily News recently quoted him as he affirmed that PBS is a place where “Everyone feels welcome. No one is judged for lack of knowledge or observance.”
Rabbi Moshe E. Scheiner was born and raised in Brooklyn. He holds a Masters degree of Talmudic studies and Jewish philosophy from the Rabbinical College of America. He completed a two-year internship at the Rabbinical College of Australia and New Zealand and returned to New York to receive his rabbinic ordination at the United Lubavitcher Yeshiva.
He has lectured to communities in Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore, Colombia and, other communities throughout South America and the United States. In 1994 he became the founding Rabbi of the Palm Beach Synagogue. He also founded the Ethel & Eugene Joffe Maimonides Leadership Institute for post Bar and Bat Mitzvah students. Rabbi Scheiner resides in Palm Beach with his Rebbetzin, Dinie, and their six children.
After a brief introductory conversation with Rabbi Scheiner, I was convinced his was the voice of reason for which I was searching.
Offered here in four parts are segments from our conversation on fear and anger.
Rabbi Scheiner’s words and stories frame our nation’s bitter and sometimes violent crisis, while offering a spiritual tonic for our troubled times.
Part 1: In this first part of our conversation, Rabbi Scheiner explores fear and the spiritual reality of God-With-Us.
Bob Jones: Do you feel like anger and fear seem to be on the rise in your community and in the world?
Rabbi Scheiner: I do. I feel that as society drifts further away from spirituality and further towards materialism, we lose our spiritual equilibrium. And fear, as someone once told me, is F-E-A-R, which stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. The world sometimes seems like a frightening place and when we stand as individual souls, disconnected from one another and we don’t have our spiritual connection to each other, then our egos begin clashing with other people’s egos and immediately we lose.
If one has faith and true spiritual connection with others then there’s nothing to fear. As King David said in Psalm 23, “I fear no evil for you are with me.” So, I think we need to grow closer together to each other and closer together to God and that replaces fear with faith and disconnection and (God forbid) hatred or anger towards others with love and connection to one another.
Rabbi Moshe Scheiner
Bob Jones: As you were speaking I was thinking of the AA people (Alcoholics Anonymous) people who would say, “Ego is Edging God Out.”
Rabbi Scheiner: Absolutely. And one of the key teachings of Judaism is that our body is maybe different and separates from one another, but our souls are really all one because they come from one divine God. And in order for God to be our father in heaven we have to be his family here on earth. When we focus on our souls more than our physical beings and then realize that that’s the essence or our identity, we realize there’s nothing to separates us or distinguishes us from our fellow man.
We all have the same – we all know we have the same – color of blood. We all have the same feelings and joys and sorrows and pains. And when we realize our spirits are really made up of the same fabric cut from the same cloth, then we focus on our oneness rather than our separateness. And I think that our society sometimes pulls us away from that message. But the more we connect to that message and that idea, the more we are going to love and embrace others rather than fear them and reject them.
Bob Jones: Yeah, that reminds of your response to the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, when you said “The response to evil is increased goodness, the response to hatred is increased love, and the response to death is to help save the lives of others.
Rabbi Scheiner: Absolutely.
Bob Jones: When we respond to fear with anger what happens to us and to the other?
Rabbi Scheiner: So we become much smaller.
King Solomon said it best when he said in the book of Proverbs ‘a little bit of light expels a great deal of darkness’. The answer to darkness in the world is to just create light and then the darkness is driven out by itself.
When we respond with malice and with anger we become a captive prisoner of our own anger, and it enslaves us to become subservient to a power which is very destructive, and harmful to our own physical, emotional and psychological and spiritual well-being.
As I pointed out on the video the word “DANGER” is one letter, just add a letter D to anger and you have DANGER. Because in our tradition it is said that the one trait that you shouldn’t take is the middle path, but you should go to an extreme which is anger. A person should never get angry. The only time it says you can get angry is when you need to discipline a child and you need to act like you’re angry. But a person should never get angry because anger is just desperate and multiplies the problem, increases the problem, and doesn’t solve anything.
Someone gave me the analogy that it’s like your car in Park and you floor the gas pedal it makes a lot of noise, but it doesn’t move anywhere. A person who’s angry is like a brain that is in park. He can’t move and he’s just making a lot of noise, but it’s not going to get him anywhere because he’s locked – in a lock position. Emotionally he’s locked. He can’t hear. He can’t receive. He can’t grow. You can’t evolve in that state.
Rabbis take it so far in the Talmud that they say that anger is equivalent to idolatry. And you may say how could you equate anger with idolatry? I mean, idolatry is denying God’s existence. And the answer is because if you truly believe everything in this world comes from God and everything that happens…every circumstance…is ordained from above, then you have no one to fear and no circumstance with fear because whatever circumstance you’re in, God put you in that circumstance.
And so it’s like, I use the analogy of a mother going on a journey and that she’s going from one country to the next and getting in and out of taxis, and going in to airports, and boarding planes and de-boarding. And in every leg of the journey if you ask the mother where are you? She’ll say, “Well, I’m in this country, I’m traveling to this city, I’m going to this town, I’m going on to this country.” But if the mother is carrying an infant baby and you ask the baby throughout the journey where are you? The baby says, “I’m in the same place I always was they always was…in my mother’s loving arms.”
If you go the journey of life feeling like you’re controlling your destiny (and yes of course God gives us free will) but ultimately there’s a Higher Power that decides the direction of our lives. And when you know it’s coming from a loving father in heaven then you could accept it and say, ‘Well, this is a test. God’s putting me through a challenge because it’s for my benefit’. You know sometimes a parent gives a child a sweet medicine, sometimes it’s a bitter medicine. But the parent gives the medicine for the benefit of the child.
For every circumstance in life is there is a reason…and God put it there…and we have to find the reason God gave us that challenge and turn the darkness into light, or the stumbling stone into a stepping stone.
Bob Jones: It reminds me to the when you talked about the golden path, that middle way. That’s so accurate and so true.
Rabbi Scheiner: Thank you.
Robert Kenneth Jones
ChaplainUSA Contributing Editor
Bob Jones has dedicated his life to making people whole again. His work in helping others overcome addiction and childhood abuse spans over four decades.
“Men of power sat around him. . . all struggling with their tears — great hearts sorrowing with the president as a stricken man and a brother.” Nathan Parker Willis on the Death of Lincoln
On February 20, 1862, William Wallace Lincoln, the 11-year-old son of President and Mrs. Lincoln, died of typhoid fever. The openly mourning president would become a symbol of our nation’s grief as the Civil War began to take the lives of 620,000 soldiers over what remains the bloodiest four years in U.S. history.
Upon first seeing his dead son, President Lincoln murmured, “My poor boy. He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!” Willie was interred in a borrowed crypt at Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown.
His coffin would accompany the president’s on a funeral train to Springfield, Illinois in 1865. This is a story of such profound grief that we can still feel the pain and suffering upon hearing it. Lincoln continues to teach us how to cope with tragic loss…not with a stiff upper lip, but with an unashamed embrace.
According to the United Nations World Population Prospects report, approximately 7,452 people die every day in the United States. Annually, some 37,000 people are killed in automobile accidents, another 45,000 commit suicide and 17,250 more are victims of homicide. There is no doubt that each of us will encounter, and deal with death on a fairly regular basis.
Chaplains & Grief
For Chaplains and First Responders, the chance of frequently facing such tragedy is imminent. It is so important for all of us to open ourselves to the reality that we will be called upon as intimate comforters for family, friends and others.
“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
If we are to abandon the stages of denial and impatience in the process of grieving, we must also be able to embrace the darkness of loss. This is not supposed to be easy. It requires a listening ear open to suffering with those in pain. It also requires sharing and experiencing personal sadness when grief comes to our own door.
Resource For Chaplains Continuing Education:
The Association for Death Education and Counseling is an organization dedicated to the study of death and dying. They provide a place for professionals from diverse backgrounds to advance knowledge and promote practical applications to research and theory. Their 41st annual conference will be held in Atlanta this April. Continuing Education Credits are available. This would be a great opportunity for Chaplains and others. Here is a pdf link to the conference overview. An online webinar, Working with Continuing Bonds in Grief Therapy and Counsellingis coming up on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 (12:00-1: 30 pm EDT).
It seems to me that we might have lost our ability to grieve and mourn. Most people spend a lot of time trying to get over tragic or difficult things that have happened.
Common counsel from friends and family who have tired of our grieving and sadness is to ‘get over it and move on’. There is a real problem with this notion. Getting over a significant loss connotes forgetting.
It means that we should go on with life as if nothing was wrong, shoving our anguish and broken hearts into the dark night, and burying it in denial. This inability to allow grief to process is a powerful force playing a major role in much of the depression and chemical dependence that surrounds us. It lies at the bottom of unresolved emotions and unfulfilled expectations that have been repressed in a desire to make people believe that everything is okay.
“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er fraught heart, and bids it break.” William Shakespeare (on the death of his son)
It is impossible for wounds to heal by saying that things are fine when they are not. Sometimes we have to be allowed to wail. The harsh reality of pain, loss, and suffering must be experienced. Lincoln understood this as he gave his address at Gettysburg. Whitman grasped it as he wrote “O Captain! My Captain!”
Embracing sadness and loss, becoming acquainted with the night, and understanding that life will never be the same are the means for moving through grief toward acceptance. And the goal is acceptance.
I have relied on it ever since and passed it on to dozens of my clients and associates. It helped me understand that, in time, grief will soften. We will recognize that life goes on. Almost unbelievably we move through the sadness into a glimmer of light. Hope will return as surely as dawn gives way to a new day.
There are many people in our lives who have good intentions and sage advice for us. A famous scene in the 1967 movie The Graduate plays out this dynamic well. Benjamin Braddock, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, is at a party after his graduation from college. Everyone is fascinated by what he might do next in life. A friend of the family, Mr. McGuire, corners Benjamin and the following exchange occurs;
Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Benjamin: Yes, sir. Mr. McGuire: Are you listening? Benjamin: Yes, I am. Mr. McGuire: Plastics. Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean? Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
Mr. McGuire was probably right. Benjamin would have made a fortune in the plastic business. The problem was that Ben had another idea. He tells his father that he just wants to be different.
We do not have to follow a path that has been prescribed for us by well-meaning family members, friends, and mentors. Their expectations, experiences, and visions for our path are barely relevant to the one that we must forge on our own. We can be led to the crossroad but, in the final analysis, must travel on alone.
Our personal passions and dreams are unique unto us. When we take the road that was traveled by others and fail to follow ours, life will not be satisfying. As Joseph Campbell would say, ‘follow your bliss’. It might be scary but your own adventure is perfectly fit just for you.
Where is God? This is the universal question of our minds, hearts, and souls. We look for God in all the right places, but often come up without a sense of true encounter. Emptiness, loneliness, and feeling of abandonment follows us as we search and search. I am reminded of the haunting, sad song “Where is Love” from the musical Oliver. But maybe all the right places are not so right after all. Perhaps we will meet God most authentically in the faces of those who suffer. After all, this is just where Jesus points us.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta found and recognized God best in the faces of every orphan, invalid, leper, and impoverished sufferer. It was from them that her infectious joy and boundless compassion came. Mother Teresa was following the directive of Jesus who said; “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
My own search took me from church to church, and from tradition to tradition. But I best found God in the boys, girls, and adults who came to me suffering from horrible abuse, often with chronic substance use disorders. They were at the end of their ropes. The people closest to them usually had given up all hope. And sure enough, there was God in disguise. The pain in their eyes reflected the pain of Jesus. They carried the weight of a cross I never had to carry. It soon became clear that those I had come to serve were actually serving me.
In answer to the question posed at the beginning of this journal; God is hiding in plain sight. If we are open to becoming vulnerable and are willing to risk suffering with those in pain, we will find God and Jesus everywhere.
Verna J. Dozier was a leading African American theologian and prophet who touched countless lives and transformed hearts. Her work and service were prolific. As a teacher and Board Member of Examining Chaplains, she often spoke and wrote about the dream of God.
She believed that we have the capacity to bring forth the realization of Howard Thurman’s vision of ‘a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky’. She believed that God wants all creation to live together in peace, harmony, and fulfillment. She believed that we are called to restore that dream together. I believe she was right. In truth, how could it be otherwise?
The wounds and struggles of the past have the power to separate and destroy us. But they also have the power to move us forward to new life, a new identity, and universal oneness.
Our suffering is what we all have in common. It’s not single-mindedness and strength that will overcome, but acceptance and shared vulnerability. The Dream of God is attainable if we are willing to let go of our chokehold on yesterday by engaging in healing here and now. We can start by loving where we once hated.
I think this is about the best starting point for building up the Dream of God; A boy named Camden asked New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady at a press Q&A in Atlanta what we should do about haters. “What do we do about the haters? We love ‘em,” said Brady. “We love them back because we don’t hate back.” There it is…a glimmer of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.
“We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become”
St. Clare of Assisi
Self-help teachers have been floating the clichés that we need to ‘love ourselves first’ and ‘take care of ourselves first’ before we can love or help others. This easy wisdom is just too easy. And perhaps it is more a symptom of our tendency to narcissism rather than a guide to furthering compassionate action.
St. Clare and St. Francis might guide us to the mirror for a closer yet wider second look. In so doing, we could possibly discover that Self-help and helping-the-Other are inseparable.
The false self would like for us to follow trendy wisdom of taking care of ourselves first. It seems to make so much sense. But the false self is never really interested in extending compassion to anybody other than number one.
It shuns a deep look into the mirror because it will lead us to the discovery that we are one with our true self, with everyone else, with God and all of creation. The false self begins to dissolve when we take that risk of accepting and embracing our absolute vulnerability and inseparable unity.
You are totally loved and totally accepted just the way you are. So am I and so is everyone else. Two great commandments are retold in the gospels of Matthew and Mark which record Jesus as telling us to love God, neighbor, and self equally with our whole hearts, souls and minds.
Likewise, the beautiful song “Let There Be Peace on Earth” gives us a simple directive to walk with each other in perfect harmony. The roadmap to compassionate action is clear. Take the risk. Look in the mirror. Then, let it begin with me.
It is so easy to slip into the doldrums. This seems easy to understand when cabin fever sets in during bleak midwinter, but can also happen for most people on a sunny summer day.
Negative thoughts are seductive. In fact, scientific research tells us that the brain has an automatic survival default to negative over positive. We have a kind of bad news bias built into our DNA that keeps us out of harm’s way.
Studies show that we need almost a five-to-one ratio of positive over negative in order to hang onto joy. With the easily accessible barrage of negativity available, it seems like a long-shot that we would be able to resist the depressive lure of distressing and grim conditions. But perhaps our powerlessness holds the key to joy after all.
In order to crack the five-to-one negativity code, we must accept that we are emotionally powerless over the way our brain is constructed and let go of trying to out-think it.
Like the folks who practice 12 Step Recovery, we must come to believe that a power greater than ourselves will hold us in loving arms regardless of our shortcomings. Then we have to engage in the work of changing our bad news bias into something positive.
The same research which identifies our default brain confirms that we can tip the scales towards happiness and override the tilt to negativity with frequent small positive acts of kindness and compassion…again with a ratio of about five-to-one. In other words, we need to be actively engaged in being nice if we want to have a life of sustained peace, joy, and love. It sounds like we better get busy.