My wife enjoys watching horror movies, and as we get closer to Halloween, it feels like there is always one on the TV for her to watch. I don’t like being scared, I feel no need to watch something which is either going to shock me in the moment, or give me nightmares later on. There are enough things which cause me to fret, and keep me up worrying in the middle of the night, I don’t need any extra inspiration from scary movies.
I am sure that there are some people who go through life never worrying about the future, sleeping soundly through the night, with absolutely no fears. I am not one of them; my father is a worrier, my grandmother is a worrier, and I am a worrier. I know that sometimes my fears and concerns are irrational, but that knowledge doesn’t really help.
This week’s Torah portion begins the story of Abraham covenant with God. Following on from God’s initial call, and after Abraham’s experience of the famine in Egypt and the rescue of his nephew Lot from the four kings, God appears to him in a vision and says: ‘Fear not Abram!’ (Genesis 15:1). It is not immediately clear what Abram, as he was originally known, should be afraid of. The commentators suggest he was concerned about killing people when he rescued his nephew, or that he feared reprisals.
God does not just tell Abram not to be afraid, but offers reassurance by telling him: ‘I am your shield, your reward shall be exceedingly great’ (ibid.). God appears to acknowledge Abram’s war related fears by offering the militaristic image of a shield, but God also looks towards the future with the promise of a great reward. With these promises one might imagine fear was eliminated, but Abram responds: ‘My Lord Adonai, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and Eliezer of Damascus shall be the possessor of my house’ (Genesis 15:2).
Despite God’s reassurance, Abram still found something to worry about. He worried about who would inherit from him so long as he and Sarai were unable to have a child. I wonder what God must have thought of Abram’s response, after telling him not to be afraid and offering the dual reassurance of a shield and a reward. God has to respond directly and promise him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; but he that shall come forth out of your own loins shall be your heir’ (Genesis 15:4). And only then does it say that Abram ‘believed in Adonai’ (Genesis 15:6).
If after receiving God’s reassurance, Abram still finds something to worry about, perhaps it is an indication that fear is part of the human condition. Our minds wander, and we find things to be afraid of.
But we have the reassurance that God is our shield. The imagery is pertinent, as the shield does not prevent the attack, but it protects you from it; a shield may not stop the bad things happening, but it lessens their impact. Perhaps it is for this reason that in the Amidah prayer, three times a day, we remind ourselves in the first paragraph, that Adonai is our God, and the God of our ancestors, ultimately the Shield of Abraham. There are things we might rightly, or wrongly, be afraid of, but we know that we have God as our shield, offering us protection.
And if you want to listen to this Two Minutes of Torah: