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Faith as an antidote to Fear

By: Rafi Leicht

by Rafi Leicht, Reishit ’05-‘07
“They are big, but we are small.” “They are strong, but we are weak.” “They do not fear us, but we fear them. “ “We cannot prevail.” Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that in the episode of the Meraglim we hear this language of fear and demoralization, which has resurfaced from time to time in Jewish history, for the first time. And this attitude always leads to disastrous consequences.
Fear leads to seeing things the wrong way. For example, the Midrash points out that the spies concluded that the heavily fortified cities indicated the might of the inhabitants and the fact that there cities were impregnable. However, they should have realized that it meant that the people, themselves, were weak – having to hide behind these walls to protect themselves.

It is easy to enter into the mindset of the spies. They had been living in the wilderness, in fragile, temporary dwellings. They had not seen a city for some time. The fortifications surrounding towns like Jericho must have been awe-inspiring. But they did not stop to consider what this might mean in terms of the strength of the opposition they faced. They drew precisely the wrong conclusion: the cities are strong, therefore the people are strong. In fact the opposite was the case: the cities are strong, therefore, the people are weak.

Here is another example. The spies relate: “There we saw the Nephilim, the sons of the giant from among the Nephilim, we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes!” (Bamidbar 13:23)

The Kotzker Rebbe points out that the second half of this passuk calls to the root of their costly mistake. It is because they saw themselves as grasshoppers and because they cared how they were perceived in the eyes of others that they sinned. Lacking confidence, they rationalized their fear by claiming to have an insight into the mind of their enemies. Fear led them to see what was not there. We see what we expect to see; and if we are afraid, we will interpret the evidence of our eyes in the light of our emotions.

This fear ran much deeper than just a lack of confidence. In her writings on the studies of Sefer Bamidbar, Nechama Leibowitz teaches that the sin of the meraglim was actually rooted in their fears of the responsibilities of freedom and the dangers involved in securing it. It was far better in their eyes to wander in the wilderness and even to return to Egyptian bondage than to exercise their freedoms. The slave has no responsibility and his fate is decided by others. They spurned the opportunity to lead their own lives, foster their own economy and govern themselves.

The people who wept on that night set the pattern for future generations, characterized by the search for security and the flight from responsibility and independence. Their motto was, “let us go back to our place of bondage.” This formula has, unfortunately, been echoed even in our times as well. Let’s not forget what our Sages teach regarding this flaw: “They wept for no reason, but I shall give them a reason to weep for generations.”

It is not by accident that the parsha which begins with the spies, ends with the command of tzitzit. They are connected by two words: ure'item, "and you shall see," said by Moshe to the spies and said by God regarding the tzitzit and, the rare verb, latur. In the case of the spies, Moses commands them to "scout out" the land [veyaturu]. In the case of tzitzit the Torah says, "so that you do not go astray [velo taturu] after your heart and your eyes."

Tzitzit, in other words, have to do with the way we see the world. If we let our emotions dictate our perceptions, we will often make bad mistakes. In the case of the spies it cost a whole generation the chance to enter the land of Israel. If we look first at the tzitzit, whose blue thread reminds us of heaven, we will have the confidence that comes from faith, and we will be able to face the world without fear.

Faith is not about seeing the world through a rose-tinted lens; it is not seeing the world as we would wish it to be. It is about seeing it exactly as it is, with the courage and confidence that, with God's help, we can surmount the obstacles and overcome any challenge we are faced with. Just as tzitzit were the antidote to the spies, so faith is the antidote to fear.

Shabbat Shalom, Gut Shabbos and Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos!