Just last week three teenage boys, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frankel and Gilad Sha’ar were abducted and kidnapped in Israel. Less than 72 hours later, Naftali’s mother, Racheli Frankel, appeared on Israeli television and passionately thanked those who were searching for her son. A clear example of strength in the wake of grief.
Google.com defines courage as “the ability to do something that frightens” one” and “strength in the face of pain or grief.” Racheli Frankel along with many others in her situation exemplify such courage.
Courage is a much needed response when dealing with a tragedy or violent crime and the resulting fear. It is therefore not surprising that, in Scripture, courage is a phrase associated with overcoming fear.
Moses tells the people they will conquer the Canaanite nations and states “Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them.” (Duet. 31:6). When instructing Joshua of his leadership role and the mission of entering Israel, on three different occasions, G-d states “Be strong and of good courage.” The last of the three adds “be not afraid, neither be dismayed.” (Joshua 1:1-9). Later, Joshua relays the message to his captains stating “Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage.”(Joshua 10:25).
The message is that in the face of dangers and difficulties, as a nation or individuals, we need to be courageous and unshakeable. We will not allow other people, through fear, to intimidate or define us.
This message was also demonstrated by the great Rabbi Akiva. At the age of 40 Rabbi Akiva saw water falling drop by drop onto a rock and eroding the rock. If water could penetrate a rock then Rabbi Akiva realized that knowledge could penetrate his mind and he could become a scholar. He had the courage to quit his job as a shepherd and enroll in school, initially learning the aleph-bet to combat his illiteracy.
Thereafter, Rabbi Akiva became such a great scholar to the point he accumulated 24,000 students. Unfortunately, because of improper conduct towards each other, each of these students perished. Most would pack in the towel but Rabbi Akiva had the courage to re-bound and teach five promising students who became prominent leaders of the Jewish people.
And when the Romans issued decrees outlawing Jewish practices, Rabbi Akiva took a stand and supported the Bar Kochba rebellion. Tragically, Bar Kochba and his supporters were defeated and Jewish study was declared forbidden. Knowing that abstaining from learning Torah would result in a spiritual death of the people, Rabbi Akiva courageously gathered and taught large groups of people.
Unfortunately, he was captured and tortured in front of his students. During his last breath, Rabbi Akiva recited the prayer Shema Yisrael in front of his students. This was ultimately a tremendous display of courage – sanctifying G-d’s name among the ruling group of dissenters. A clear sign of strength in the face of pain.
Rabbi Akiva exhibited courage to learn and change at any age, courage to overcome tragedy and courage to stand up for his beliefs despite heavy challenges.
The messages and/or examples of strength and courage relayed by G-d and leaders like Moses, Joshua and Rabbi Akiva have been transmitted throughout generations during which nations or extremists have tried to enslave, belittle, annihilate or otherwise harm us. To this day Anti-Semitism persists with the goal of causing us to be fearful, retreat or renounce our faith. Nations or groups of terrorists call for our destruction or are more subtle and incite or provoke others against us. The modern day extremists are brazen and do not hesitate to harm or kidnap our people of all ages and most recently three of our teenage children.
About the Author: Scott R. Bugay is a native Chicagoan who currently resides in South Florida with his wife and four children. Scott is an attorney who practices in the areas of probate, guardianship and social security disability.
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