Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin: What Was the President Really Saying Last Night?

Immigrants from Honduras and Guatemala seeking asylum arrive at the bus station after they were processed and released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on June 21, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. President Trump signed an executive order to end family separations at the border. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Did you watch the President’s speech last night?

If so, then you might have noticed something.

Its main theme was fear. Fear of “them.” Fear of being overrun. Fear of crime. Fear of drugs. Fear of….

Whatever else you might want to say about his speech, whatever other inquiries you might want to make into the veracity of his remarks, that was what was going on.

Pure, unadulterated fear. His speech was a binder bulging with fears.

Fears have a way of becoming pathological. When that happens, they become phobias.

Phobias have a way of migrating into hatred — to the extent that we often confuse phobia with hatred, as in homophobia, Judeophobia…

Oh, right.

Xenophobia. The fear of foreigners/the hatred of foreigners.

So, let’s talk about fear.

Let’s study a passage of Talmud that teaches us about different kinds of fears.

If you have a fear of studying Talmud — Talmudphobia — try to shed it.

At least for a few moments.

The Talmud (Shabbat 77b) tells us there are four kinds of fear (eimah), in which the strong fears the weak:

  • when the scorpion fears the spider;
  • when the elephant fears the mosquito;
  • when the eagle fears the swallow;
  • and when the lion fears the gnat.
  • (there is actually a fifth fear — when a huge sea monster fears a small fish, but you get the idea).

What is going on here?

Let’s take each fear, one at a time.

The scorpion fears the poisonous spider. We can understand why the scorpion would be afraid of the poisonous spider.

Yes, the spider is comparatively small. But, despite its small size, the spider can inflict a mortal wound.

The elephant fears the mosquito. Again, we can understand why the scorpion would be afraid of the spider. But, the elephant has no rational reason to fear the mosquito.

So, why is the elephant afraid of the mosquito? When the mosquito travels up the elephant’s trunk and drives it crazy. The mosquito is, relatively speaking, a mere nuisance — but a painful one.

The eagle fears the sparrow. Again, why?

RASHI, the eleventh century commentator, explains that the sparrow creeps underneath the wings of the eagle and hinders it from spreading its wings — thus preventing it from flying.

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Source: Religion News Service