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Parshas Shoftim

Fear is Contagious

By Rabbi Label Lam

When you go out to battle against your enemy, and you see horse and chariot - a people more numerous than you - you shall not fear them, for HASHEM, your G-d, is with you, Who brought you up from the Land of Egypt. It shall be that when you draw near to the war, the Kohen shall approach and speak to the people. He shall say to them, "Hear O' Israel, you are coming near to the battle against your enemies; let you heart not be faint; do not panic, do not be broken before them. For HASHEM your G-d is the One Who goes with you to fight for you with your enemies."

Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, "Who is the man who has built a new house and not inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in war and another man will inaugurate it. And who is the man who has planted a vineyard and has not redeemed it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in war and another man will redeem it. And who is the man who has betrothed a woman and not married her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in war and another man will marry her." The officers shall continue speaking to the people and say, "Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his fellows, like his heart." (Devarim 20: 1-8)

One section here has three different cases of those who had initiated a house, or a field, or a marriage and not yet benefited from the fruits of their efforts and the fourth category is listed separately; those who are afraid. The stated concern is that their sense of fear will spread and dishearten others and therefore they are sent home. Our sages tell us that the root of this fear is due to his even slightest of sins. The reason for his exemption is that since fear is contagious, he will affect and infect others. Who then was left to fight the war?

The story is told and from reliable sources that a group of Maskilim, western intellects that presumed they were already too sophisticated for the Torah, made a play to mock the Torah and its contemporary sages. They portrayed the scene described above of a large band of troops ready for war and receiving their final marching orders from the Kohen. As he announced each separate exemption the numbers of soldiers on the stage continuously depleted until after the ones fearful were given their chance to exit and then only two elderly men were left standing alone, and those two men were the Vilna Gaon and the Shagas Aryeh.

An alarming report about their irreverent representation of Torah was delivered to Reb Chaim of Brisk. He remained surprisingly undisturbed responding that "what they showed on that stage was not at all absurd but rather completely correct. They only failed to include one important detail and that is with those two sages they won the war." How?

When Daniel entered the lions' den it was the lions that were afraid of his G-dly presence. Similarly, when the children of Yaakov exited from Schem the verse testifies, "They set out and, and there fell a G-dly terror on the cities which were around them, so they did not pursue Yaakov's sons." (Breishis 35:5) Why was it necessary to mention that it was the "G-dly terror that kept the surrounding enemies at bay? Shimon and Levi had just flexed their militant muscles! That probably contributed more to their exposure to danger. It certainly wasn't their saving grace. However, when the "G-dly Image" is intact and untainted the oppositional forces are more scared of us than we of them. We are told to not be afraid of "them"-the enemy, but rather to be fearful of countermanding HASHEM. When we fear G-d, they fear us, because either way fear is contagious.

DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and



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