Transcending Fight or Flight

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Transcending Fight or Flight

Karen Berg
January 29, 2023
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This article on the portion of the week was originally published in 2017.

"When in doubt, do nothing. Let the situation evolve around you."

This was something my late husband, Rav Berg, would often say. We see this concept illustrated at many a turning point throughout the Bible, including this week’s portion of Beshalach – most famous, perhaps, for the splitting of the Red Sea. At The Kabbalah Centre, we consider this to be one of the most important Shabbat connections of the year as it contains the 72 Names of God, the tool by which Moses was able to part the water so the people could escape Pharaoh’s army safely.

As the Israelites faced the Sea in front of them, with Pharaoh and his army charging from behind, the nation had to make a choice. The Zohar reveals there were four reactions from the people. The first group among them said, “Let’s just jump into the sea. We’re done for anyway!” The second group said, “Let’s go back and surrender!” The third group said, “We must fight!” The fourth option came from Moses himself, who said, “Let the Creator perform His wonders for us.”

The first three are the most common reactions we experience when we face our own Red Sea, a challenge that seems all but insurmountable. Our first instinct is often to give up, go back, or give in altogether! What the Israelites were experiencing was something more commonly referred to today as: Fight or flight syndrome. It’s human nature, really. We have a primitive instinct for survival, and that instinct tells us that we need to control people or the outcome of things. “Fight or flight” can take many different forms, showing up as rage, violence, blame, surrender, withdrawal, or compliance just to name a few. Yet, there is a third option, which transcends fight or flight: Certainty.

"We must trust that every circumstance placed before us is from the Creator, and therefore it cannot be bad."

We need our survival instincts. They serve us well. We are not meant to be passive, but in life’s most arduous moments there’s a big difference between being still and doing nothing. To be still in certainty and peace amidst the chaos and confusion, allowing the circumstance to evolve so that we may inevitably see a clearer picture, is the opposite of doing nothing. When faced with the impossible, instead of trying to control things, sometimes it’s an opportunity for us to consciously, mindfully let go. It’s so easy to get into a head trip at the first sign of trouble, thinking “This is terrible! I have to find a way out! I have to find a way to win! I have to control this situation!” Yet if we have certainty that every circumstance placed before us is from the Creator, and therefore it cannot be bad; there must be a reason. There must be a lesson to learn. And maybe the lesson is to simply to trust it.

This is the power the 72 Names of God can give us in those dark hours: the consciousness of certainty, so we can transcend our primal instincts. Through the reading of this week’s portion and meditation upon these beautiful three-letter combinations, we can find stillness even in our strife, to traverse calmly and peacefully through our own Red Sea, allowing the Creator to perform his wonders for us.

With every difficult scenario, there is a choice that is asked of us: To choose the spiritual journey of having certainty over the earthly journey of seeking to control.

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