There is a famous niggun with words attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: “Kol ha olam kulo, gesher tzar me-od … all the world is a narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to fear ….” These are powerful words. What exactly do they mean? Even if we do not understand completely, one thing is clear: fear must be a big thing in this world if Rabbi Nachman says the “main thing” is not to fear.
There is a passage printed in the Siddur after Aleinu: “Al tira … Do not fear sudden terror or the holocaust of the wicked when it comes. Plan a conspiracy and it will be annulled; speak your piece and it shall not stand, for Hashem is with us. Even till your seniority I remain unchanged; and even until your ripe old age, I shall endure. I created you and I shall bear you; I shall endure and rescue.” (Mishlei/Yeshiah ha Novi)
We have passed through the events of Tisha B’Av and we are still here. We have survived Holocausts, pogroms, inquisitions and crusades and it is not over. Today the world is closing in on us again as it closed in on our ancestors at the Red Sea, where it seemed that there was no escape. But Moshe Rabbeinu told Am Yisroel, “Do not fear! Stand fast and see the salvation of Hashem that He will perform for you today ….” (Shemos 14:13)
In every generation, we are told “Do not fear.”
Right now, I believe that a lot of people are afraid. They are afraid of what is happening and what is going to happen in the world.
In this week’s Parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu speaks about the nations which inhabit Eretz Canaan and tells Am Yisroel, “Perhaps you will say in your heart, ‘These nations are more numerous than I. How will I be able to drive them out?’
“Do not fear them! Remember what Hashem, your G-d, did to Paro and to all of Egypt ….”
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says (on Dvarim 1:8): if Am Yisroel had only lived up to the Torah, not one stroke of the sword would have been necessary to conquer the Land. Hashem would have given it to us without opposition!
We make such trouble for ourselves! Those who reject Hashem claim that yeshiva bocher-im should be drafted into the army, but in fact they ARE the army! They are literally the ones who save us. I heard from Rabbi Yaakov Zev Smith Shlita”h that all our troubles come because we have no Bais Hamikdosh! If we are true to Hashem, then we will find ourselves in Gan Eden. If we rebel, G-d forbid ….
It’s that simple.
How can we overcome fear?
I have tried to talk myself out of it. It doesn’t work. I believe that emotion is beyond our ability to control. I do not believe you can make yourself calm or unafraid through an act of will. But our Rabbis tell us that we can control the Yetzer ha Ra, the Evil Inclination, through immersion in Torah. How does that work?
Look in the mirror. Whom do you fear? What do you fear? Do you fear some person who may have control over you? Do you fear powerful forces in the world? Do you think you have no control? Why? “Hashem has redeemed Yaakov and delivered him from a power mightier than he….” (Yirmiah 31:10)
Actually, I believe that we are afraid of ourselves. We are afraid of the Yetzer ha Ra, the internal force that will control us if we do not have Torah to save us. Every morning we beg Hashem, “Do not let the evil inclination dominate us.” When the Yetzer ha Ra is in control, then we are afraid.
We project our battle onto others because we do not want to acknowledge the source of our fear, so we say that this person has power over us. We fear other nations just the way the Miraglim feared the inhabitants of Eretz Canaan. Why did this happen? Because they were unwilling to admit that the real battle was with their own Yetzer ha Ra.
If the Yetzer ha Ra is subdued, then fear will be subdued, because the basic object of fear is the Yetzer ha Ra. In the words of Dovid ha Melech, “Min ha maitzar … from the straits I called upon G-d…. G-d is with me. I have no fear. How can man affect me?” (Tehillim 118)
“[Hashem says]: I created the Evil Inclination and I have created Torah as its ‘tavlin.’ If you involve yourselves in Torah, you will not be delivered into its hand.” (Kiddushin 30b) “Tavlin” actually means “spices.” Why does the Gemora compare Torah to spices?
My friends, I can offer one simple answer: spices make food pleasant. Hashem wants us to live in a happy world, a world of beauty and perfection. Torah means that your life will be good; your life will be happy; your life will not taste bitter. Motzae Shabbos we smell spices to revive us; in the Bais Hamikdosh the aroma of ketores filled the air. It must have been like Gan Eden.
This is the Season of Teshuva. If we allow Torah to dominate our thoughts and actions, there will be nothing to fear. We will soon greet Moshiach ben Dovid and see the Bais Hamikdosh on the Holy Mountain.
Gan Eden: The Garden of Eden
Ketores: Incense offered in the Holy Temple
Miraglim: The Biblical spies sent into the Holy Land
Siddur: Prayer Book