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 Torah.org.