Fear is not a plan of action

Friday, 24 November, 2023 - 3:26 am

In normal times, I wasn’t always particular to wear my hat and jacket when outside. Sometimes I would go into town in some unofficial capacity, and you would see me without my “uniform”, especially during the summer. Not that I was trying to hide anything, for in any case I wore a yarmulke and my tzitzit were visible, and once upon a time, before the beard trend overtook quite a few men in classical Europe, a beard was also a marker. 

Since October 7th, I do not leave the house without my trademark hat and jacket.

In normal times I would usually go by car – a combination of habit and convenience; but these days, I go by public transportation, as much as possible.

Why? Because I hear and feel that these are times when we must show Jewish pride and not show any fear. Because I hear and read quite a lot about people who say one should be careful when sporting indications of one’s Jewish identity. Don’t speak Hebrew; hide this, hide that. This awakens the Chabadnik in me all the way. We are not afraid. We have nothing to hide. And like the Rebbe said about the passuk from megillat Esther, “There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital”: You could see from afar that this was a Jewish man. Whoever saw him knew immediately that there was a Jew there.

I once heard about a Jew who was in a very official, distinguished event and felt uncomfortable. He therefore went to the restroom, removed his yarmulke and rearranged his hair. An African-American sanitary worker who was standing next to him there looked at him and said: “You can hide the yarmulke, but I” – and he pinched his own cheek – “can’t put my color into my pocket. If you are not going to take pride in who you are, what will you take pride in?” The yarmulke returned immediately to its proper place on top of his head.

In one of Moshe Dayan’s notable speeches to soldiers during the War of Attrition (5727-5730; 1967-1970), he mentioned how the Holy One, Blessed Be He, told each of the three avot (Patriarchs) not to be afraid. To Avraham he said, “Do not be afraid, Avram, I am your shield.” To Yitzchak he said, “I am the G-d of your father Avraham; Do not be afraid, because I am with you.” And to Yaakov he said: “Do not be afraid, my servant Yaakov.” This entire speech was thereafter known as the “Do not be afraid, my servant Yaakov” speech. He also mentioned Moshe Rabbeinu who told Bnei Yisrael before their entry to Eretz Yisrael: “You might say to yourself, ‘These nations are more numerous that I. How can I possibly dispossess them?’ Do not be afraid of them. Remember well what Hashem your G-d did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.” Dayan gave his own commentary to this passuk – a very Israeli one, which related only to the “Do not be afraid” part of it. He saw this passuk as a guideline provided by the Holy One, Blessed Be He to the Jewish People.” “We have to understand the ‘Do not be afraid, my servant Yaakov’. The ‘Do not be afraid’ does not mean that there is no need to worry. It means: Yaakov, do not be a fearful person, a coward. It has been decreed that you should live in constant strife, and you must not fall into cowardice!”

Moshe Dayan said some more things that I cannot connect to, and which I have not quoted here. But I definitely accept the point I brought above, what I call “Fear is not a plan of action.”

One should indeed use common sense; one should indeed be careful when necessary and be aware of one’s environment (not everyone lives in Switzerland), but one should not be afraid, and one must maintain the pride of Yaakov.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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