Q: My daughter and son-in-law are preparing for the arrival of their much-prayed-for baby in October. Due to COVID-19, shopping in stores for baby items, having a family gathering to announce their pregnancy and attending doctor appointments alone while her husband waits in the car, the "fun" has been taken away from her pregnancy. Compound this with the daily barrage of doomsday-type news media reports, which naturally add stress. Thankfully, she and her husband are walking this nine-month journey with God. What advice would you offer new parents as they bring their child into our world today? Thank you for all you do. You have brought great comfort to me for many years through your words and insights. Looking forward to being a grandma! — V
A: Mazel tov, congratulations and God bless you, dear V, and your daughter and son-in-law in this time of expectant joy that has been sadly pandemic-ed. Hopefully this virus will be history by the time your new grandchild is old enough to be afraid of the world. Please share my advice with parents who have children right now who are afraid right now.
There is no way around this fact: If you are afraid, your children will be afraid. The key to helping your children is to help yourself first. You must find a way to conquer fear in your own soul before you can calm the souls of those who depend upon you. Some find a path to conquering fear through meditation, exercise and medication, but for me faith in God is the best way to conquer fear. Psalm 23, our favorite, reminds us, "Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil." The divine promise here is not for a life without evil, but rather a life freed from the fear of evil.
Why does faith offer us such a healing promise? Faith offers us two beliefs about God that help to banish fear from our souls.
The first is that we are not alone in our life's journey. We are accompanied at every step by a loving God who wants us to flourish. You wrote that your daughter and son-in-law are "walking this nine-month journey with God," and that is true for every month of our lives on Earth. Loneliness is corrosive to our souls, and faith is a cure for loneliness. So when a child is fearful, just sing a lullaby because the meaning of all lullabies is the same: God is with us and everything is going to be all right. In the large and secular world, that is just a hope. In the world of faith, that is a fact.
The second promise of faith that combats fear in our souls caused by the dangers of living in a broken world is the belief that death is not the end of us. It is the end of our bodies, but death is not the end of our souls. If you can conquer the fear of death, you can conquer the fear of anything.
In Judaism, the prayer after the reading of the Torah includes, "You have implanted within us eternal life." In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God, which Matthew called the Kingdom of Heaven. The promise of an eternal life with God in Heaven is one of the foundations of Christian belief. Similar beliefs occur in Islam and in all the Eastern religious traditions. It seems that all versions of faith have agreed that we will not be separated forever from those we love who have died before us and are now with God. So when a child is fearful, hug them and kiss them, and promise them that we will always be with God, "on Earth as it is in Heaven."
The most common phrase in the Bible is "be not afraid" (in Hebrew "al tirah"). Perhaps its ubiquity derives from God's knowledge that the greatest task of life is to live without fear and the greatest cause of fear is the loss of hope. Bringing a child into this world is always an act of hope, and for many it is also an act of faith. Be present to your child or grandchild; let them see your hope in your smile, in your kindness and in your thankfulness. What they see in you, they will someday see in themselves.
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at email@example.com or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.