REPLACING FEAR

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Yaakov Avinu is beset by fear upon hearing that Esav is approaching his camp with 400 men.

...וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד, וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ

Yaakov became very frightened, and it distressed him...

Our sages famously list Yaakov's three preparations for meeting Esav: Gifts, Prayer, and War. While prayer certainly is a response to the threat that Esav poses, prayer is also a means by which Yaakov is able to confront his own anxiety. The Torah describes Yaakov's prayer:

הַצִּילֵנִי נָא מִיַּד אָחִי, מִיַּד עֵשָׂוכִּי-יָרֵא אָנֹכִי, אֹתוֹ--פֶּן-יָבוֹא וְהִכַּנִי, אֵם עַל-בָּנִיםוְאַתָּה אָמַרְתָּ, הֵיטֵב אֵיטִיב עִמָּךְ; וְשַׂמְתִּי אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ כְּחוֹל הַיָּם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִסָּפֵר מֵרֹב

Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav, for I fear him lest he come and strike me down, mother and children; but You said, 'I will surely do good with you and I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea which is too numerous to count.'

Yaakov makes use of a psychological technique called cognitive restructuring. A person can learn to face anxiety by replacing "negative self-talk" with "coping self-talk." He or she creates lists of negative thoughts, and writes a list of positive, believable thoughts to replace them.

Yaakov did this in his prayer. Yaakov expresses what he feared, the physical destruction of his family. He replaced this fear with God's promise of his family's ultimate success. Prayer can be a conduit for replacing negative thoughts with positive ones; it can be a means for taking fear and restructuring it as hope. Severe anxiety should not be treated with prayer alone. Yet, prayer can be a useful ingredient in developing a healthy and positive attitude in facing our own fears - just as it was for Yaakov Avinu.