Psalm 53

“They were fearfully afraid” or “They feared, fearfully.” (53:6)

The repetition and rhythm of the Hebrew phrase pahadu pahad is difficult to capture. We might render it, “They feared fear,” bringing to mind the line from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” When we are afraid, we make bad decisions. Fear triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response, which discourages conversation, negotiation, or compromise. Fear, FDR goes on to say, paralyzes our efforts to advance our cause. When we are in the grips of fear, we should recall the words of Rabbi Nahman of Breslov, “the whole world is a very narrow bridge; the essence is not to be afraid.”

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