When I was in ninth grade, I went to a Jewish day high school on the outskirts of Harlem. One evening, my friend Max and I went to a jazz concert featuring the celebrated xylophonist Terry Gibbs. Returning to the dorm late at night, we were accosted by a group of unsavory teenagers, one of whom was on roller skates. They wanted our money. One, in particular, threatened me with a brass ring that he provocatively thrust in my face. I was petrified, but my friend Max was not. Apparently he had been in similar situations before, and he suddenly grabbed hold of the fellow on roller skates and threw him to the ground. Then Max shouted, “run,” and we ran close to a four-minute mile back to our dorm. Max knew how to confront fear; I did not.
Aliens is all about confronting fear. Ripley, the only survivor of a space mission that discovered a hostile alien species, is serendipitously found after drifting in space in a hypersleep for 57 years. Because of her experience with the aliens, she is recruited to be an advisor on an expedition to find out why the colony that settled on the space station where the aliens were discovered has ceased transmitting to earth. At first, she refuses the request, but her continuous nightmares motivate her to join the mission with the goal of destroying the aliens. In this way, she hopes to find inner peace.
Her cohorts on the mission are a group of tough but arrogant Marines. They are so full of themselves and their weaponry that they do not pay much attention to Ripley’s warnings. Soon, however, they come in direct contact with the hostile aliens and a life and death battle with them rages. After a number of Marines, including the commanding officer, are killed or wounded, Ripley has to take charge of the spaceship and the mission. The situation continues to deteriorate as the Marines are confronted by an enemy vastly superior to them in strength and number. Furthermore, in the midst of all the fireworks, their transport back to the mother ship is damaged, leaving them with a limited supply of weapons and ammunition.
The situation is desperate and calls for innovative thinking. Some team members want to give up, but Ripley insists upon trying to survive in spite of the superior strength of the hostiles. She is fearful but she does not allow fear to paralyze her.
Judaism acknowledges the reality of fear in our lives. When the Jews were about to enter the holy land, they decided to send spies to check out the feasibility of conquering the land. Ten of the twelve spies saw not the good of the land, but rather the imposing giants who lived there. In comparison, they saw themselves as grasshoppers, ill-equipped to vanquish them. Attempting to battle them would only bring loss of life and disaster to the people as a whole.
However, two spies saw the same things but came to opposite conclusions. They also feared the giants living there, but they were imbued with a deep faith.
Judaism’s approach to life-threatening situations is not to ignore the reality of a danger, but rather to do one’s best to overcome the threat and to trust that God will be with you to carry you to victory. Facing the challenge, seeing it as an opportunity for growth, can transform fear into courage. Thus, the impending disaster can be changed into a divinely-ordained victory.
Aliens reminds us that in the midst of crisis are the harbingers of redemption and safety. Ripley, when confronted with almost certain death, overcomes her fear and finds a way to assert life over death to insure the survival of subsequent generations.