“Leave the light on, please” says the child, “I’m scared of the dark.” One of the most common emotions expressed by little children is fear. Long before they become comfortable articulating happiness, excitement and sadness, small children speak of feeling frightened.
Though we speak of it less as we grow up, we still feel it. Just ask the adult who has been invited to give a speech before a large gathering. People fear approaching strangers, they fear harmless insects and they fear looking over the edge of tall buildings; there are all kinds of phobias.
To be sure, there is a healthy fear that keeps us from doing dumb and dangerous things, but what about the fears we all have for utterly harmless activities? I don’t know what your particular fears and phobias are but I’m sure you have them. I know I do.
It’s worthwhile overcoming the fears that hold us back. Though about 10,000 books on dealing with fears and phobias have been published, I find that I need only one book.
Let’s glance at Deuteronomy, the book recited by Moses during the last thirty-six days of his life as he attempted to strengthen Israel and help them overcome their own fears of the next phase of their national development—conquering the Promised Land.
The book opens with the first verse providing geographic coordinates describing where this happened.
These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on this side of the Jordan…
Verses 2 and 3 provide time coordinates describing exactly when this all happened.
There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb…And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month…
And in a perfectly logical sequel, the fifth verse reads:
On this side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses began to explain this Torah, saying.
However, just before verse 5, the narrative is interrupted in a most perplexing way:
After he killed Sichon the king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who lived at Ashtaroth Edrei.
Huh? What has this got to do with anything? Moses did many marvelous feats and vanquished many enemies along the way during the previous forty years in the desert. Why mention just these two obscure rascals, Sichon and Og?
Well, it turns out that Sichon and Og are what are described as giants. In fact, there are seven nouns used in the Torah to describe giants: refaim, eymim, giborim, zamzumim, anakim, avim, and nefilim. And here is the strangest thing. Far from being somewhat uniformly distributed throughout Scripture, they are heavily concentrated in the book of Deuteronomy. Though briefly alluded to in some of the other books such as Genesis and Joshua, no book of the Bible contains anywhere near the number of references to giants as the book of Deuteronomy.
Are these really massive men of grotesque proportions? Are they what we imagine Goliath to have been? Well, strangely enough, not one of these terms is used in describing the life and death of Goliath in I Samuel 17. We are told he stood over six cubits tall, but he is never referred to as a giant. So what is a giant?
While each of the seven words has a nuance of its own, Ancient Jewish wisdom employs these terms for the fears that terrify and paralyze us. During his final speech Moses repeatedly mentions the ‘giants’ reminding Israel in his fourth sentence that he already slew two of these monsters. He describes them and assures Israel that they too will be able to overcome these representations of paralyzing phobias.
Adapted from Thought Tools December 2012