Do not be afraid - there is protection
Exactly at one of the peak moments of Abraham’s life when he should have been celebrating, instead he is afraid! In the verse (Genesis 15:1) it doesn’t actually say that he is afraid, all it says is that God told Abraham not to be afraid:
After this, Abram had a vision and heard the Lord say to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I will shield you from danger and give you a great reward.”
Rabbis have commented on this verse and stated that you only say “don’t be afraid” to someone who is already afraid of something. Therefore it stands to reason that Abrahm was afraid of something.
The backstory to this is that Abraham has just won an amazing victory over the four kings. This is a war of control over a vast space, an area that is larger than the state of Israel is today! The war starts at the Dead Sea area and continues to the Damascus area. Abraham, who wins the war, transforms from a man who was wandering the country not many years before to a personality who has the power to rule over the entire land of Israel. Precisely at this moment it seems that Abraham is afraid of something.
The verses do not tell us what Abraham was afraid of and the commentators on the Torah offer different possibilities. The Rabbis offer three different options:
Abraham was afraid of revenge by the four kings
Abraham was afraid that no one will remember this victory, that there would be no trace of it in history since he has no offspring to continue his legacy.
Abraham was afraid that the victory was a victory in this world, however in the next world he might even be punished for participating in an unnecessary war.
If we look for a common denominator between these three interpretations, we can say that at this peak moment in his life, something of importance is missing. He is lacking real confidence, maybe he feels a lack of continuity in his life. Maybe his whole way of thinking is not justified and just wrong. This would certainly justify the existential fear that he is feeling. Maybe he fears that even though it would seem that he has everything, maybe he in fact has nothing.
It is at this precise moment, when Abraham is having doubts and fears, that God reveals himself and assures Abraham that he is on the right path - he is protected by God from the actions of the kings, he is guaranteed to have many descendants and his actions are according to God’s will.
Every person, in peak moments in their lives or in low moments may find themselves facing this type of fear. Fear that really has no real justification. It is a fear that tries to convince us that everything on the outside seems fine, however on the inside something is missing. Anshei Knesset HaGedolah, the “Men of the Great Assembly,” (532 BCE) which was composed of the 120 greatest leaders, some of whom were prophets, including Ezra and Nehemiah and were tasked with defining Judaism is a post temple era, defined our holiest of prayers, the Amidah. Right at the beginning they included the following prayer
מלך עוזר ומושיע ומגן ברוך אתה ה', מגן אברהם
King, helper, savior and protector, Blessed are you our Lord, protector of Abraham
The blessing that God blessed Abraham with has become one of our most fundamental prayers, recited three times a day - everyday (four on Shabbat and holidays).
Anyone who follows the path of Abraham may find themselves at such a point of existential fear, in such moments, God promises protection.
The initial promise of the prayer of “Magen Avot” is that there is an inner deep and stable point that does not move from its place; neither in peak moments nor in the low moments of our lives. When a person is afraid he has to return to this point of self assurance, a point of security in our relationship with God. To that point where God promises us, “Do not be afraid, I will protect you”. We must return to the initial starting point that we remember in our prayers everyday - Abraham’s fear and God’s dispelling of those fears with his promise that Abraham is on the right track and He will protect him. As God protected Abraham from his inner fears and self doubt, so he will protect us. It is a long path that started with Abraham in Parashat Lech Lacha and one that we all continue to walk to this day, we walk that path with the knowledge that God is protecting us from our inner self-doubts and our fears.
Rabbi Matan Schneweis is married to HoHodaya, they have 5 children,and live on Kibbutz Tirat Zvi . Matan serves as the kibbutz rabbi and as a social worker at the pre-military preparatory school, in the settlement of Mishkiot in the Jordan Valley. Hodaya works as an educational director at a pre-military seminary for girls "Neta" in Beit Shean