Fear Factor by Rabbi Darren Blackstein

(2005/5765) Engaging in war is surely a daunting task. The very
prospect of losing one’s life can understandably interfere with the
focus one needs to maintain during battle in order to survive.
The first four Pesukim in Chapter 20 of Devarim tell us how to
conduct ourselves when called upon to assume the responsibility
of this job. We are told that as we approach the time of the war
itself, a Kohen will approach the nation and tell them not to be
afraid, as Hashem will be with us and will fight the enemy with us
so that we will be saved. The Torah then continues to enumerate
several categories of people that are exempt from battle for
various reasons. However, the overwhelming majority of people
are going to suit up and put their lives on the line. No matter how
much the Kohen reminds the people about Hashem’s
involvement in our battle, there is going to be a tendency to be
scared of the enemy, especially when facing the threat of horse
and chariot, as the Pasuk describes. Perhaps examining our
fears will reveal the best ways to deal with them.
The Ibn Ezra on Pasuk 3 explains three effects that fear
can have on a person. This Pasuk uses three terms for fear that
seem to explain what “Al Yerach Levav,” “Do not be faint-
hearted,” means. The Kohen tells the troops, “Al Tir’u,” not to be
afraid, “Al Tachp’zu,” not to panic; and “Al Ta’artzu,” not to break
down. The Ibn Ezra explains that being afraid relates to the
heart, the very core of one’s emotions. We then proceed to panic
which is the physical manifestation of this fear, leading one to
actually leave the battlefield. If someone has managed to remain
in combat, then we turn to the Kohen’s final exhortation, to not
break down and compromise the quality of our actual defense
and attack. We see from Ibn Ezra that fear emanates from within
and can then eliminate or severely curtail the efficacy of our
actions. This overall fear can smother our desires and can, in the
long run, destroy our faith.
Fear seems to weave its way into our hearts when we
perceive ourselves as being alone. This loneliness is not born
out of a lack of human companionship but rather out of a lack of
divine companionship. When one feels abandoned by Hashem,
he can be in a crowded elevator and still feel alone. This
loneliness can then rob us of the strength we have and need in
order to go on with our lives! Our hearts go out to those around
the world, both inside and outside of our country who, at this time
feel alone due to disaster knocking at their doorstep. We join
them and certainly attempt to relate to them by feeling some of
their anguish, even if only on some remote level. What can be
done so that this pain can be somewhat relieved? Perhaps the
key is in the first Rashi in our Perek. Rashi points out that the
issue of war is discussed directly after the Torah discusses an
issue regarding honesty among witnesses. If we are honest
among ourselves and render just decisions in our courts, then we
are assured that we will emerge victorious and unscathed from

If we maintain loyalty to truth and justice – Emet and Mishpat –
when dealing with each other in times of peace, then when war strikes,
Hashem will preserve us so that we may continue to display this loyalty.
This loyalty can then be the key to removing that sense of loneliness,
eventually causing all our fear to dissipate.
The Torah directs its comments to the scenario of war.
Perhaps we can broaden the concept to that of world suffering. May it
be Hashem’s will that if we demonstrate compassion and sincere
kindness to those suffering and to each other, Hashem will assist in
their relief and thereby remove their sense of loneliness, enabling them
to carry on and lead productive lives.

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