“This week in His World” – by Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon 1
“The Only Thing to Fear is Fear Itself …”
Earlier this month, an Australian court upheld a ban on the construction of a new synagogue in the neighborhood of Bondi, Sydney, because “it could become the target of a terrorist attack.”
Australia’s Land and Environmental Court backed a decision by the Waverley Council to prohibit the construction of the synagogue in Sydney’s world-famous Bondi Beach suburb.
The Waverley Municipal Council in denying the Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (“FREE”) permission to build near the beach said the site was “unsuitable for a synagogue because of the potential risk to users and other members of the general public!”
The word “terrorism” comes from a Latin term meaning “to frighten.” Apparently without lifting a finger, would-be terrorists the world over scored a resounding victory, stifling Jewish expression and marginalizing Australia’s Jews.
Allowing the fear of intimidation to change the plans and hopes of the Bondi Jewish community, not only empowers the terrorists but, from a Torah perspective, I believe it sends an erroneous, albeit subtle message, that things can occur independent or outside the master plan of the Almighty.
This week’s parsha, Parshas Shoftim addresses the Torah perspective of fear in the context of going to war – “When you go out to war against your enemy and you see horses and chariots, an army greater than you, do not fear them, for the L-rd your G-d, Who took you out of Egypt, is with you.” (Devarim, 20:1). If the Torah commands us not to fear the impending battle, it must be something within the capability of every Jew.
One of the first words a Jew pronounces on awakening in the morning, “reishis chochma yiras Hashem” is a reminder that any clear and lucid decision must be preceded by the understanding and appreciation of Who is running the world. Perforce, every fear pales in comparison to the fear of losing one’s closeness to Hashem. To that end, the mantra of the Jewish People is encapsulated in Tehillim 27:1-4”:
“G-d is my light and salvation, from whom should I fear; G-d is my life’s strength, from whom should I dread? If an army encamps against me, in this do I trust … that I will dwell in G-d’s home all the days of my life, that I will see the pleasantness of G-d and visit in His inner sanctum.”
When the aforementioned is imbedded in the heart and soul of a Jewish soldier, when he goes into battle to fight the enemies of Israel and G-d, the only thing that concerns him is the strengthening of G-d’s rule that will result from victory. In this context the Sefer Hachinuch explains the foundation of the mitzvah not to fear the enemy in battle:
Every individual Jew should put his trust in G-d and not fear for his own personal life in a situation where he can give honor to G-d and His people. He should not think about his wife or children or property, but rather divert his mind from everything and concentrate only on the battle. Furthermore, he should ponder that the lives of the entire nation depend upon him. One who fights with all his heart, with the intention of sanctifying G-d’s Name, is assured not to be harmed and will merit for himself and his children a faithful home in Israel
and eternal life in the World to Come. Since his only fear in battle lies in not achieving the Kiddush Hashem of victory, he does not fear the enemy because he is thinking only of his own awesome responsibilities. It is not fear which is prohibited but fearing “them.” The fear of the enemy pales into nothingness next to the fear of the Chillul Hashem of being vanquished in battle.
While this weeks’ parsha discusses going to war in the literal sense, the Hakdamah to the Ramchal’s classic sefer, Mesilas Yesharim, makes it clear that in more figurative terms, every Jewish neshoma is sent into this world to fight a war. The battle against the Yetzer Hora and the inner struggle between our physical and spiritual drives is a war we engage in every day of our lives.
If we capitulate to avoid the war against evil, where will we find the resilience and courage to fight the more insidious war against a pop culture that is causing a generation to live lives devoid of meaning and compounds the spiritual genocide facing the Jewish People?
If ever there was war worth fighting, it is the battle to preserve the sanctity of the values of the Jewish People, to be a light unto the nations and to be living examples of a Holy Nation. That battle needs to be fought fearing no mere mortal but rather only the Fear of Heaven. With Klal Yisrael facing pressure and intimidation both external and internal, if there was ever a time to recall the famous words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his first inauguration, it is now, “… the only thing we have to fear is fear itself …”
1Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon is a Sir Abe Bailey Fellow, Fulbright Scholar and graduate of the Harvard Law School. Chanan has spent most of his career in the high end of the financial service industry.
Chanan can best be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.