What do we most fear as Jews in 5780, 2020, right here and now? We have a palpable, real fear that the hatred and violence of anti-semitism could harm or kill anyone of us, anywhere in the world at any time. What is an antidote to fear? How do we manage it, so that it doesn't manage us? We cannot just decide to not be afraid; we must take fear and dismantle it through our actions of safety and caution. We do not surrender to it; it may be on our minds, but it cannot, it may not, direct our minds.
These past few week in the Torah, we have shown great courage as a people. We, sons and daughters of generations of slavery, went out into the unknown, into the desert, with Pharaoh's army and his chariots bearing down upon us. With the boldness of bravery, grasping onto the miracle of the parted waters of the Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds, with Moses' urging and G-d's sure Presence, we overcame the sheer terror of it all. Fear was a catapulting force; fear drove us forward; fear did not stop us in our tracks or sending us frightfully back to Egypt.
We learned these words almost immediately, we brand new free humans, these words, in the wilderness: Know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; don't oppress the stranger; love your stranger as you love yourself.
I, G-d, brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. We were strangers there and they did not want to know our hearts or our names or our truths or our stories. And they turned us into the other. They covered us over with their fear until they could no longer see us at all.
How do we counter fear? By standing up as Jews, by living Jewish lives, by doing mitzvot, by taking a hold of Torah and building the Mishkan, the Dwelling Place for G-d, so that G-d can dwell among us. How do we counter fear? By standing up against it and refusing to make other human beings into the other through fear and hatred. Instead, we say to them, as we hoped they would have said to us: stranger if you seek shelter with me, if you seek refuge with me; here is my hand. Here is my heart; it is yours. I know you; I am you, for I once was a stranger, too.
Our great American poet, Walt Whitman wrote, "Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me; why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?"