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Parshas Shelach: The Cow And The Hero


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Rabbi Avi Berman is the director of the Orthodox Union in Eretz Yisroel. Among his other important work is his involvement with Israeli soldiers.  When IDF soldiers went into combat against Hamas in Gaza last year, he spearheaded the distribution of tefillin to over a hundred soldiers who were interested in adding a spiritual component to their weaponry. After the operation in Gaza concluded, the OU continued to be in contact with the soldiers.

Outside enemy territory the army erects a home base. Before advancing into combat, soldiers leave their personal belongings and valuables at the base.

Rabbi Berman related that he was friends with a soldier who was killed during the Gaza campaign. When they gathered his personal belongings they found a video taken just before he went out on his final mission. The video was of the soldier and members of his unit dancing with their unit’s Army-Rabbi and singing -“עם הנצח לא מפחד מדרך ארוכה” – The eternal nation does not fear the long road.[1]”

A number of years ago, I spent a week in Eretz Yisroel on an Orthodox Union Rabbinic mission. On Shabbos we had the privilege to eat Seudas Shilishis at the home of Abba and Pamela Claver. The Clavers live in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Yerushalayim, and their rooftop provides an absolutely magnificent view of the Kosel and the Temple Mount.

But what made the experience truly special was the fact that we ate together with a regiment of religious soldiers. In fact, we sat interspersed among the soldiers, and had a chance to get to know them a bit. One of the highlights of the meal for me was when we sang the aforementioned song “Am Hanetzach” together. Defending Eretz Yisroel, being and living as a Torah Jew, and seeking to gain any level of mastery in Torah study, the noblest pursuit of all, all entails perseverance along “the long road.” The eternal people must always proceed without fear!

The nation stood at the threshold of Eretz Yisroel and its entry into the land was imminent. Twelve of the greatest leaders of the nation, one from each shevet, were dispatched to survey the land. The results of that mission were catastrophic.

Ten spies reported that the inhabitants of the Land were an implacable foe. They surmised that the enemy possessed insurmountable strength and resources, and were simply impregnable. Two spies however, returned preaching that a nation of believers in an omnipotent G-d would be able to vanquish the inhabitants and drive them from the land, despite the odds.

Ten spies lamented that, “We cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us,” and two spies countered, “We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it.” Ten spies cried, “It is a land that devours its inhabitants… we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes,” while two spies retorted, “If G-d desires us, He will bring us to this Land and give it to us… You should not fear the people of the Land for they are our bread… G-d is with us. Do not fear them!”

It is uncanny that the same people who saw the same thing could have had two diametrically different experiences. How could ten spies return full of dread and pessimism, while the other two were filled with sanguinity and excitement?

Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt’l[2] explained that a person’s level of bitachon[3] in G-d is based on the context of his perceived relationship with Him. If a person truly believes that G-d loves him and feels a deep connection with G-d, he will react and relate to the events of life with a far more optimistic attitude than one who believes G-d hates him and is “out to get him.”

On their great level, the ten spies felt a certain spiritual/psychological aloofness from G-d. They did not feel worthy enough of G-d’s love and protection.[4] Therefore, they saw the challenges they would face upon entry into the land as insurmountable, impending disasters.

Yehoshua and Calev, however, saw the land through a lens of closeness to G-d. Their bitachon in G-d was whole-hearted, and they felt that G-d’s love for them and all of Klal Yisroel was uncompromising and unconditional. Thus, when they viewed those same challenges, they saw them as opportunities that would undoubtedly yield Divinely-ordained victories.

Rav Matisyahu Salomon, the Lakewood Mashgiach, quipped[5] that in Israel today there is a “Sar HaBitachon – Minister of Defense” who is in charge of ensuring the security of the country. But Torah Jews have greater confidence in the “Sha’ar HaBitachon.”[6] It is our sense of bitachon that grants us the ability to feel a sense of security and tranquility in an insecure world.

Rav Salomon continued by quoting a poignant thought from Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm. He noted that it is commonly believed that the difference between a hero and a coward is that the coward is beset by fear, while the hero is not afraid. But this is false. If the hero had no fear, he would not proceed into battle in the first place, or if he did, he would not fight with adequate gusto and determination.

In truth, both the hero and the coward may be intimidated and frightened by the prospects of the unknown they are facing. The difference, however, is that the coward flees from the source of his fear, while the hero is propelled forward by it. Both are afraid, but while the coward is paralyzed by his fear and seeks avoidance, the hero is confidently driven by his fear, determined to confront the source of his fear with every asset available to him. The coward seeks the path of least resistance, while the hero relentlessly readies himself for a long arduous journey.

To become a hero one must feel that sense of security which breeds optimism and hope. And to have that level of bitachon in G-d there must be a requisite feeling of connection with G-d and a penetratingly deep realization of how much G-d loves us and desires that connection.

The roads of life are indeed daunting and ominous. But when one feels secure in the Hands of G-d, he can proceed because he is not afraid to confront fear itself!

_________________

[1] This well known song sung by religious soldiers was written during the Disengagement from Gaza by the settlers as they were being evacuated. It is sung to the popular tune commonly sung to the words, “Oz V’hadar l’vushah.”

[2] Alei Shor, Volume 2, p. 576

[3] Bitachon is the highest level of trust in G-d. It is a deeper and higher level than emunah. Bitachon literally means security; a person who has bitachon in G-d feels completely secure no matter what happens to him because he sincerely feels that he is in G-d’s Hands. The Chazon Ish explains that emunah is an intellectual belief, while bitachon is an emotional belief, and therefore much stronger.

[4] The Chofetz Chaim develops this idea at length. He explains that the spies felt misplaced humility, figuring that they were unworthy of divine intervention and miracles. The Chofetz Chaim continues that this is a common tactic of our own Evil Inclination; he seeks to make us feel unworthy and distant from G-d, which in turn affects all of our Service to G-d.

[5] Torah Umesorah Convention – Iyar 5769/May 2009

[6] Literally the “Gates of Trust (in G-d),” a reference to the section with that title in the great ethical work Chovos Halivavos (Duties of the Heart)

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.


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