Jewish Food for Thought is a series of animations that distill Jewish teachings into a form that is accessible, entertaining, funny, and fresh. Created by Hanan Harchol, with study guides authored by Rabbi Leora Kaye, the project is funded by The Covenant Foundation, with fiscal sponsorship by The Foundation for Jewish Culture.
Where does fear come from and what happens when you are afraid? How does fear affect your behavior, and in particular, how you treat the people around you? Is fear based on real danger, or is it at least partially in our your head? And, are there ways to feel safe, even in frightening situations?
Having Power and Feeling Powerful
From Biblical to contemporary times, examples of people exerting control or power over others are featured in some of our most absorbing tales. These characters, in stories ancient and modern, share one overarching similarity: feelings of fear, insecurity and powerlessness. People who are consumed by fear often need to control those around them and instill fear in others so that they themselves can feel more in control. It is a theme that is as common in the Bible as it is in modern day life.
From Biblical tradition, one of the most clear and extreme examples of deep fear manifesting itself as control over others is in the Purim story. Haman, the archetypal villain, masterminds the potential end of the Jewish people in order to retain his own power and feel in control. His plan is spurred by Mordechai’s refusal to bow down to him. Haman’s fear of the power of the Jewish people is subconscious, and results in his need to control them.
The lesson Hanan’s parents teach him about his boss could be also be applied to Haman:
MOMMY: Just because he’s conscious of what he’s doing, doesn’t mean he is conscious of WHY he’s doing it.... Ask yourself: why would he need to make everyone around him afraid?
DADDY: To have control over them. Ssssss!
MOMMY: But he already has control. He’s your boss. He can fire you… but just because someone is in power, doesn’t necessarily mean that they feel powerful. Deep deep down, inside, he feels out of control.
HANAN: Are you saying he’s afraid?
MOMMY: Not just afraid. He’s terrified. He’s consumed by his fear.
Hanan’s boss needs to feel in control, much like the Biblical Haman who feels weak and powerless, despite his position of power. At no point, however, does Haman explicitly acknowledge a fear of the Jews or of Mordechai. His fear instead manifests itself by manipulating King Achashverosh, who plays a part in his scheme, and by bullying the Jews themselves.
- Although it is an ancient story, what feels realistic about this Biblical narrative?
- What are examples of times in your own life when your fears or insecurities affected how you treated other people? Did you ultimately feel any consequences or realize the source of your actions?
- What are examples of times when others’ fears and insecurities affected how they treated you?
- What is the difference between feeling powerful and actually having power?
- Hanan’s mother explains that the loss of control comes directly from a deep fear which has become his boss’s reality. What makes you most afraid, and how do you think you respond to it? Do you think you are aware of the fear?
Missed part one of the "Love and Fear" series? Find it here.