1. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner: Results of Terror
Date: Thu Jun 6, 2002 6:06 am
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner in a talk listed
the following statistics that are
Since 1880 20,000 Jews have been
killed in the Land of Israel through
This amounts to an average figure 160
At present 600 people a year are
killed in traffic accidents.
10,000 deaths per year are
attributable to smoking.
1,600 deaths per year are ascribed to
We mustn't fear.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner
Question : I am very afraid, especially of my husband's being drafted. I
know that it is a great mitzvah to settle Eretz Yisrael and to go to the
army, but what can I do? The emotion of fear gets inside me without even
knocking on the door. Every time I hear about a terror attack on the radio,
I get tense. Should I cut myself off and stop listening to the news?
Answer : 1. It is true that fear is an emotion, but the saying that it goes
wherever it wants is imprecise. A person has a certain amount of control
over his emotions. The Torah includes many mitzvot consisting of emotions:
"Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18); "Do not hate your
brother in your heart" (Ibid., 19:17); "Do not desire your neighbor's
house" (Deuteronomy 5:17); and many more.
In wartime it is forbidden to fear. "Do not be faint-hearted, do not be
afraid, do not panic and do not break ranks before them" (Deuteronomy
20:3). It is true that in non-compulsory wars the "afraid, faint-hearted
man" goes home (Ibid., verse 8), but in compulsory wars, all go into
battle, including the afraid, faint-hearted man. But isn't he afraid? Now
he will get over his fears. When the people are in danger, when the Land is
at risk, when the sanctification of G-d's name is in jeopardy, for a great
mitzvah such as this one has to overcome his fears! "The L-rd your G-d is
the One who is going with you. He will fight for you against your enemies,
and He will deliver you" (Ibid., verse 4). Do you believe that G-d walks
with us or do you not? If you believe, you won't fear.
It is true that a person does not have direct control over his emotions.
For example, there is a mitzvah to serve G-d joyfully (Rambam, at the end
of Hilchot Succah VeLulav). How can someone force himself to be happy? Is
that called happiness? Yet a person has control over his thoughts. It is a
mitzvah to think the sort of thoughts which will bring him to rejoice in
the service of G-d, and the sort of thoughts which will lead him to love
G-d, to love people, and not to fear in battle.
Rambam likewise writes that certain thoughts regarding what is liable to
happen cause a person to be afraid, "and whoever begins to think a great
deal about war, thereby alarming himself, violates a Torah prohibition"
(Hilchot Melachim 7:15). Quite the contrary, a person should think thoughts
that increase his strength and valor, and this will make him overcome his
fear. He might still have fears, but they will not determine his behavior,
but rather intellect and his recognition that there is an enormous mitzvah
here. At a later stage, his fear will disappear entirely.
2. Sometimes, the problem is not how to overcome one's fear. Rather, the
whole fear is blown up, exaggerated, illusory. Fear, per se, can be an
important and an essential emotion to make a person cautious so that he
seeks cover from danger. It says, "a prudent man sees evil and hides
himself" (Proverbs 22:3). Yet sometimes it is entirely imaginary. Rabbi
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto quotes a Talmudic story about Rabbi Yishmael bar Rabbi
Yossi. One time, in the Jerusalem marketplace, he saw that a disciple of
his was afraid, and he said to him, "You are a sinner, for it says, 'The
sinners of Zion are afraid' (Isaiah 33:14)."
Exaggerated fear ruins one's alacrity in mitzvah performance. Such fear is
the fear of fools. That disciple's fear was pointless. He let himself be
afraid of nonexistent dangers (Mesilat Yesharim, Ch. 9).
How do we measure fear? In our day, everything is measurable. Is war
dangerous? Since the start of the return to Zion, 120 years ago, 20,000
Jews have been killed in Eretz Yisrael through wars and terror. This is an
enormous number, approximately 160 per year. Yet at present, six hundred
people are killed each year in traffic accidents! Even so, we continue to
travel. From smoking, 10,000 die per year, and of these, 1,600 die each
year from passive smoking, ten times the number who die from wars and
terror! Everything must be viewed in perspective. We mustn't exaggerate.
Sometimes there is real danger, and then we need heroism. The nations, as
well, have heroism. In the Second World War in Leningrad, which was under
siege by the Germans for three years, out of three million inhabitants, 1.8
million died of hunger. Yet they did not surrender. That is heroism! At
present, however, we sometimes exaggerate and blow up our fears.
3. Let us again consider the truly dangerous situation. Besides our having
to fulfill the mitzvot, we must also believe in G-d. We have to believe
that there is judgment and a Judge, and nothing is by chance. There is no
coincidence at all in the world. What looks like coincidence is G-d
incognito. Everything is part of a divine scheme of things.
Sometimes, however, G-d conceals Himself. "Verily, You are a G-d who
conceals Himself" (Isaiah 45:15). Every trouble that a person faces is in
accordance with a decision by G-d (see Rambam at the start of Hilchot
Ta'anit), and all the more so the length of time a person lives (Yevamot
50a). The Angel of Death does not just run wild. Rather, he operates
according to instructions on when to take a given soul. He will not take
that soul one moment before the time, and not a moment after. He will find
that soul wherever it is, at the battlefront or at home. G-d has numerous
emissaries, wars, traffic accidents or illness. The "traffic accident
emissary" works more hours than does the "war emissary," and the "passive
smoking emissary" works the most of all.
Obviously, we have to be careful. Whoever is not careful deserves a
punishment, which might well be the shortening of his life (Mesilat
Yesharim, end of Ch. 9). To the contrary, Rambam writes, "If someone goes
into battle with all his heart and without fear, and his intention is
solely to sanctify G-d's name, he can rest assured that he will not be
harmed and no evil will befall him" (Hilchot Melachim 7:15). There are
various different levels to this.
4. All in all, one has to realize that this world is a world of problems,
as is explained in Chapter 1 of Mesilat Yesharim. There are problems and
trials, difficulties and crises. One mustn't be naive. Rather, one must
learn to live in this world.
"It is not for you to finish the task" (Avot 2:16). On individual cannot
it. There are generations of work to do. One mustn't be disturbed by the
scope of the work.
On the other hand, "You are not free to exempt yourself from it" (see Orot
HaRe'iyah, in the article: "Shalom Beshem"). We must serve G-d today. The
Talmud (Eruvin 22a) comments on the words, "[These mitzvot] which I command
you today" (Deuteronomy 6:6): "It is today that you must do them." One must
imagine that one has only today to live. Today, we must fulfill Torah and
mitzvot the best way we can. Are you married? Imagine that today is the
only day in your whole life that you are married, and treat your spouse
accordingly. Tomorrow is another day.
Why did G-d create days? "And it was evening and it was morning -- One day"
(Genesis 1:5). Why Sunday? Why Monday? G-d created each day as an
individual entity: "Blessed is the L-rd day by day" (Psalm 68:20). Each day
has its own problems to solve, its own service of G-d, its own survival
challenges. We must be strong and of good courage each individual day.
Today, and another day, and all the days join and are linked together into
a large, luminous chain.