Tuesday, September 18, 2018



Rabbi Nate Segal related the following story[2]:
Whenever there is a difficult situation in Eretz Yisroel I like to be there. When I am in Eretz Yisroel I wake up for vasikin (sunrise) and walk through the shuq (marketplace) in the Old City towards the Kosel.
When I was there at the beginning of the intifada, my family begged me not to walk through the shuq, but I wouldn’t hear of it. However, when I entered the Old City under the shadow of darkness and arrived at the entrance of the shuq, and I began to have second thoughts. It was still dark, and I was wondering if perhaps it was indeed not so prudent to walk through the empty alleyway by myself. Still, I really didn’t want to walk all the way around. I debated if I should just walk around and tell everyone that I walked through the shuq.
As I stood there deliberating, I suddenly felt a hard slap on my back. I turned around to see a short old Yerushalmi Sephardic Jew. He obviously realized my dilemma and he called out loudly and jovially, “AL TIFACHAYD (don’t be afraid)!”
He walked brusquely past me while still calling out “AL TIFACHAYD! AL TIFACHAYD!” I thought to myself, “Follow that man!” But, try as I might, I could not keep up with him. Finally, he was out of sight and I walked in the darkness, his voice still echoing in the distance reverberating off the ancient walls, “AL TIFACHAYD! AL TIFACHAYD”.
And so, my friends I say to you, “AL TIFACHAYD! AL TIFACHAYD! AL TIFACHAYD!”

Throughout Tanach, no less than 49 times are we instructed not to be afraid.
At the end of his life, Moshe instructs Klal Yisroel and then again his successor Yehoshua, “Be strong and be courageous; do not fear and do not be disheartened from before them, for Hashem, your G-d, is going with you; He will not fail you and He will not forsake you”[3].
Yet, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we daven “Uv’chayn tayn pachdecha – And so too, Hashem, our G-d, instill Your awe upon all Your works, and Your dread upon all You have created…” Is fear laudable or is fear something one must overcome?
A prominent psychiatrist once told Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik zt’l that he wished he could abolish the passage uv’chein tein pachdecha from the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. After all, fear is one of the main causes of mental illness. Why pray to be afflicted with it? 
Rav Yoshe Ber noted that although he is not a psychiatrist, the psychiatrist’s comment helped him understand the significance of this prayer. He told the psychiatrist, “I see many people who have various fears. Some fear losing their money and status, others fear illness and weakness. In past generations, people were terrified of leprosy; today they fear cancer. If they’re feeling pain, they’re afraid to go to a doctor for fear that he might diagnose them with ‘that disease.’ 
“Man is full of small fears. But I know there is one big fear that overwhelms all other fears, including fear of failure, poverty, old age, illness, or lack of popularity. That is the fear of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. And that is why we pray, Uv’chein tein pachdech. We ask Hashem to help us attain this one sublime fear that will negate all others.” [4]

The Shulchan Aruch paskins[5] that a sofer (scribe) who writes tefillin must be a yarei shamayim. The smallest mistake could invalidate the tefillin, and not all mistakes are rectifiable. A sofer invests tremendous time and energy into each pair of tefillin, and if he makes an irreparable mistake it will be tempting for him to fix it and sell it, without anyone knowing. Only a true yarei shomayim will admit that they are invalid.
It would seem that a sofer who would sell halachically invalid tefillin is a thief, not just lacking fear of heaven. Why does the Shulchan Aruch emphasize the need for yiras shomayim?
The difference between kosher and invalid tefillin can be very subtle. The ethical dilemma that a sofer faces is not whether or not to cheat. Only a truly dishonest sofer would repair tefillin that were completely invalid. The dilemma arises when there is a gray area in halacha and there are opinions who are lenient. Only one who has yiras shomayim will unequivocally decide to not use the tefillin he worked so hard to write if it is not proper to do so, despite the fact that he can technically find a halachic loophole. 
The same applies to a shochet, a cook, or a businessman. The greatest moral challenges we face involve gray areas. When it’s not so clear cut, and there is room to rationalize. When  we know in our hearts that we shouldn’t compromise, that is when our level of yiras shomayim will be the true barometer.
After Sarah was abducted by Avimelech and Avimelech was punished harshly, he realized that Sarah was Avrohom’s wife, not his sister. When Avimelech asked Avrohom why he told him she was his sister, Avrohom replied, “For I said that there is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will kill me for the matter of my wife.”
Avrohom Avinu was espousing an incredibly important principle: When a person’s values are flexible, his ethical compass is weakened, and he will often redefine halacha to meet his own interests. Avrohom was saying that the tendency to rationalize in order to justify one’s self-interest is a slippery slope, that can eventually even lead to murder. When one’s morals are not defined by an immutable infinite and divine source, there are no set boundaries or definite limits. Values change with time based on social norms. In Nazi Germany one who saves a Jew is a traitor to the Reich, while one who keeps Torah and mitzvos in Soviet Russia is a criminal. In our society one who speaks out against relationships deemed abominable and deviant in the Torah is considered an intolerant religious extremist. 
It is such societal attitudes that allow a Princeton bioethics professor to publicly promote legalizing killing of severely disabled infants.[6] What was once abhorrent and immoral can become not only acceptable but seen as progressive and the betterment of society. The boundaries never stop getting pushed.[7]
In the words of Rav Shalom Schwadron zt’l: “Where there is no Fear of Heaven, people remain animals. No matter how much you try to refine animals, the moment their drives take charge, they go on a rampage.”
Rav Baruch of Mezhbuzh would say that far more than an actual act of sin, he fears the spiritual repercussions of sin. He feared compromising his deep connection with Hashem which would invariably result from sin. Committing a sin which grants momentary pleasure but causes a far more profound spiritual loss, is analogous to Eisav who sold the holy birthrights for a bowl of soup.[8]
In Mishlei, Shlomo Hameleceh states “Praiseworthy is the person who fears constantly.”[9] What fear does Shlomo refer to? The fear of what a person can do to himself. It is the fear of wasting his life, and passing up on opportunities for growth and accomplishment. It is fear that results from the stark realization that we can make poor choices and waste our potential and utilize our talents and capabilities foolishly.
“Fear of Heaven means that you realize that Hashem created a system of reward and punishment, and that there are no loopholes. He does not want you to commit spiritual suicide, but He will not prevent you from doing so, because He provided you with free will.
“Fear spiritual disaster… Fear what you can do to yourself if you don’t take part in Hashem’s system. Fear yourself!”[10]
We can summarily say “We have nothing to fear but we ourselves!”[11]
Rav Shabsi Yudelevitch zt’l related that he once met a secular police officer who was the same age as he was. They began conversing about society generally. The officer noted that his generation never thought that things would spiral as they did. True, they wanted to abolish Shabbos observance and tefillin, but they never thought society would become so permissive and directionless. 
Rav Shabsi replied by sharing the following parable:
The Kolbo Shalom tower in Tel Aviv was the first skyscraper in Israel. One day someone was walking by the tower when he noticed someone standing on the balcony of the thirtieth floor, with one foot out poised to jump. The man on the ground screamed up to him not to jump and end his life. The man on top waved him off. “Don’t worry. I’m only jumping down two floors.” 
Rav Shabsi smiled. “Did your generation really think it can jump off the plateau of Jewish values and standards, and be able to control exactly where it landed? Did you think you can hold onto the luchos with your right hand, even as you shattered them with your left hand? Once you breach the concept of yiras shomayim, there is no telling where you might end up.”

During these incredible days we daven that Hashem grant all of mankind His fear and awe. If we possessed that fear, we would not need to fear anything else. It is a prayer that Hashem help us to become more dedicated to His holy Torah, to help us adhere to halacha properly, and to help us navigate the challenges of a morally decadent society that envelops us.
The only hope for us to retain the purity and holiness that has marked our people, is by strengthening ourselves with yiras shomayim. That is accomplished through prayer, learning sifrei mussar which help us navigate our way through the morass of this world, and by strengthening each other.

“For I said there is no fear of G-d in this place”
“Be strong and be courageous”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following is the lecture I was privileged to deliver following Kol Nidrei, Shabbos Kodesh-Yom Kippur 5777, Kehillat New Hempstead.
[2] This was the conclusion of a speech he gave at the Friday night seuda at the Torah Umesorah Convention, May 2009/5769. The theme that year was “Fostering security in an insecure world”.
[3] Devorim 31:6,7
[4] Quoted by Rabbi Moshe Grylack, Mishpacha September 18, 2017 “Winds of Fear”
[5] Oh’c 32:20
[6] Peter Singer, 2015
[7] Last year shortly before Yom Kippur one of the initiators of the greatest pornographic institutions died at 91. I was shocked to hear on the news headlines that he was hailed as a visionary, and a person who sought the betterment of people’s lives by helping to overturn the puritanical moral code of middle America.
This was a person who was personally responsible for countless damaged lives and destroyed marriages. He lowered the dignity of humans, especially women, and negatively affected millions of people. To call such a degenerate person a visionary is a terrible indictment of our society.
[8] Osef Amarim, Purim, HaRav Yaakov Meir Schechter (p. 477)
[9] Mishlei 28:14
[10] 6 Constant Mitzvos, Rabbi Yitzcahk Berkowitz, Artscroll
[11] Paraphrasing the famous quote of President Roosevelt during World War II, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”.


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