Parshas Vayishlach: When to be Afraid and When to have Bitachon?

Shiur presented in 5779

Paranoid Parents Raise Paranoid Children

One of the more common experiences in life is fear.  When children are still babies they are surrounded by parents who live in a complete environment of fear.  Parents are afraid their child may die in a crib, or choke on something, or fall down, or break something, or get kidnapped, or get abused by some bad people.  Parents are basically always afraid of something.  Fear is such an ever-present concern in today’s life, that some children grow up literally afraid of  everything – they are afraid of yidden, goyim, whites, blacks, etc.  There are parents who are such hypochondriacs, that they instill fears in their kids about their health.  They say to their kids throughout the day: “You should be afraid that you might get sick,” or “make sure you don’t catch a cold.”  You would think that these kids are walking around with gloves trying to “catch things” all day long!  It’s amazing that when you look back and you watch this behavior, you ask yourself, “Is this a healthy way to raise kids this way?  What you have to realize, is that all these parents who raise their children with fear, are themselves living in fear.  Now, most of them will tell you that they are simply being “responsible.”  But the question is – is this really called being responsible? And the next question is – how many parents bring their children up with bitachon?

Then on top of these fears – once a kid makes it to the age of six alive, without being abused, choked, or killed in a crib – his parents start worrying about his parnasa.  They are afraid of parnasa themselves, and tell their kids to be afraid of it as well – “you have to make a livelihood,” or “you have to think about your parnasa.”  They “drey a kop!”  It is sad to watch these parents bring up up a generation of people who have no שייכות to Hashem כי הוא זה!

A Generation Without Self-Confidence

A little while ago, they came out with a number of psychology books claiming that everyone today lacks self-confidence, that everyone is a wimp, that people don’t believe in themselves, that people have no self-esteem, etc.  When I heard about it, it wasn’t a chidush to me at all.  You know why?  Because they instill you with such fears, that you simply cannot turn anywhere! If you’re going to be on a street, you are going to get hit by a car; if you got to go here, this will happen or that will happen; and if you go here, you will get assaulted.  You know how many people are afraid of their houses being robbed?  I remember growing up hearing other parents being literally paranoid about locking up their houses and locking up their cars in the middle of the night! They were running outside worrying about these things.  Now, I can understand if a person’s house was robbed – that’s different.  But if it never happened to you – and most people don’t have anything in their houses to be stolen anyway – why are you afraid? Chill out! I was once in the house of someone who was a “schlepper deluxe.” If you looked inside his house with a magnifying glass, you couldn’t find anything to rob him from!  I told him, “You don’t have a breakfront, you don’t even own a silver becher – what are they going to rob you of? Your old bedding?”  I mean, it’s a wonder of wonders! So the guy told me, “You never know!” I said to him, “What do you mean ‘you never know’? What are you afraid of?” So he told me that he knew of some tzaddik who was robbed.  I said to him, “Well, maybe that tzaddik hid $50,000 under his bed?!”

A House Watchman

I’ll give you an example with my own Rebbi, who appeared to be overly concerned with the safety of his house at one point.  He made a chasuna one time, and he hired a frum person to sit in his house as a shomer.  So I thought the reason he did that, was because people knew he was making a chasuna, and while he would be out of the house, someone would “clean him out.”  So one day I said to him, “Rebbi, why are you so nervous? What do you think is going to happen? You don’t have a single thing in your house of any value to a potential thief – what is he going to steal?”  The manuscripts of the Brisker Rav? So my Rebbe told me that he was a shomer for the tzedakah money that he kept in his house.  Since he had a legal status of a shomer, he had a responsibility to watch it, and part of his responsibility of a shomer was that he couldn’t walk out of the house without it being watched.  But he certainly wasn’t afraid!

Where Does Your Fear Come From?

So the question is – which fear is correct and which one is not.  The first thing you have to know is that whenever you instill fear in somebody or in yourself it shows you’re not aware that Hashem is with you and that He is watching you.  This is based on a Gemora in Brochos (60a):

הַהוּא תַּלְמִידָא דַּהֲוָה קָא אָזֵיל בָּתְרֵיהּ דְּרַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל בְּרַבִּי יוֹסֵי בְּשׁוּקָא דְצִיּוֹן. חַזְיֵיהּ דְּקָא מְפַחֵיד. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: חַטָּאָה אַתְּ, דִּכְתִיב: ״פָּחֲדוּ בְצִיּוֹן חֲטָאִים״. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: וְהָכְתִיב ״אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם מְפַחֵד תָּמִיד״! אֲמַר לֵיהּ: הַהוּא בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָה כְּתִיב. יְהוּדָה בַּר נָתָן הֲוָה שָׁקֵיל וְאָזֵיל בָּתְרֵיהּ דְּרַב הַמְנוּנָא. אִתְּנַח. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: יִסּוּרִים בָּעֵי הַהוּא גַּבְרָא לְאֵתוּיֵי אַנַּפְשֵׁיהּ? דִּכְתִיב: ״כִּי פַחַד פָּחַדְתִּי וַיֶּאֱתָיֵנִי וַאֲשֶׁר יָגֹרְתִּי יָבֹא לִי״! וְהָא כְּתִיב: ״אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם מְפַחֵד תָּמִיד״! הָהוּא בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָה כְּתִיב.

(A student was once walking after Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosi, in the marketplace of Zion. Rabbi Yishmael saw that the student was afraid. He said to him: “You are a sinner, as it is written: ‘The transgressors in Zion are afraid, trembling has seized the ungodly’” (Isaiah 33:14). The student replied: “And is it not written: ‘Happy is the man that fears always’”(Proverbs 28:14)? Rabbi Yishmael said to him: “That verse is written with regard to matters of Torah, that one should be afraid lest he forget them. For everything else, one must trust in God.” Yehuda bar Natan was coming and going after Rav Hamnuna. Yehuda bar Natan sighed; Rav Hamnuna said to him: Do you wish to bring suffering upon yourself, as it is stated: “For that which I did fear has come upon me, and that which I was afraid of has overtaken me” (Job 3:25)? He responded: “Is it not said: ‘Happy is the man who fears always’”? Rav Hamnuna answered: “That verse is written with regard to matters of Torah.)

This gemora teaches us a fundamental principle, that if a person has fears from worldly matters – e.g. he’s afraid of the police, or other things – you have to know that not only is this a sign of a sinner, but it also a sign of someone who is inviting yissurim upon himself! It’s one thing if a person is a sinner – some people might say, “I don’t mind being a sinner” – but why do you want to bring suffering upon yourself?

You Brought It Upon Yourself!

Rabbeinu Bachya comments on the last verse in Parshas Eikev (Devarim 11:25), לֹא־יִתְיַצֵּב אִישׁ בִּפְנֵיכֶם פַּחְדְּכֶם וּמוֹרַאֲכֶם יִתֵּן יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם עַל־פְּנֵי כָל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר תִּדְרְכוּ־בָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לָכֶם – “No man shall stand up to you: the LORD your God will put the dread and the fear of you over the whole land in which you set foot, as He promised you.” He reveals an incredible yesoid to us: 

והירא וחרד מבשר ודם הוא מסבב מוקש ומכשול לנפשו ומביא עליו צרה אף על פי שלא היתה ראויה לבוא עליו [ומי האיש הירא ושם ה’ מבטחו ינצל מן הצרה אף על פי שהיתה ראויה לבא עליו, וכן שלמה ע”ה מזהיר את האדם על מדת הבטחון (משלי כט) חרדת אדם יתן מוקש ובוטח בה’ ישוגב]

(“Anyone who is afraid of someone of flesh and blood, may set his own trap and obstacle for his soul and bring misfortune on himself, even though none had been decreed against them.  But a man who fears G-d and puts trust in Him will be saved from trouble, even though he was deserving of it; this is what Shlomo warned us regarding the trait of trust, as it says, ‘A man’s fears become a trap for him, but he who trusts in the LORD shall be safeguarded, (Mishely 29:25)”

We see from this Rabbeinu Bachya that if a person fears another human being, he actually brings suffering upon himself, even though he wasn’t deserving of that suffering!  [Equally incredible, if a person fears and trusts Hashem, he will be saved from suffering even though he may have been deserving of it!].  As we will explain shortly, this doesn’t really mean that the fear all by itself brings affliction.  We know that there is a concept in the Gemora (Shabbos 32a)[i] that a person should never put himself in a dangerous situation.  But if a person does that, he is essentially asking for a judgement from Hashem who will scrutinize his “record” more closely.  However, if a person is not in a place of danger, and he is just simply afraid of some place or some person or some consequence happening to him, in that case – even though he was not deserving of being subjected to this danger – he may, in fact, face this danger.

Eat Your Vitamins, But Don’t Be a Health Nut!

I once knew of someone who was a health nut. Now, you should know that I don’t have a problem with “health nuts.”  Let me explain.  This person said that if people don’t eat healthy they will mess up their stomachs.  Later on I found out that he was particularly afraid of getting stomach cancer.  He ate very healthy and he did it religiously.  He was very careful with all his foods because of that fear that he had.  But in the end, he got stomach cancer.  So someone asked me, “How did he get stomach cancer?” Here is the point: it wasn’t because he ate vitamins! The vitamins did not bring about his cancer.  What brought him the cancer was his concern of getting the cancer.  When you are afraid of a sickness, that brings the sickness – that’s what a person has to know.  If you are afraid of someone else, this fear invites and draws the tzoros on to you.  Now, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I am not afraid of getting cancer, but I would like to take precautions for my health, as it says, וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאֹד לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם (Devarim 4:15).”  There’s nothing wrong with a person being exceedingly careful with his health.[ii]

Don’t Put Bombs Around You!

A verse in Mishley (29:25) says the following: חֶרְדַּת אָדָם יִתֵּן מוֹקֵשׁ וּבוֹטֵחַ בַּיהוָה יְשֻׂגָּב  – “A man’s fears become a trap for him, but he who trusts in the LORD shall be safeguarded.”  You literally place a little “bomb” in front of yourself if you are fearful!  Rabbeinu Yonah comments here, that a person’s fear empowers his enemy and it brings the tzora closer to him, even though he really doesn’t deserve it:

במה שנ’ “חרדת אדם יתן מוקש” החרדה שיחרד מן האדם היא חטא נפשו ונותן מוקש ומגברת האויב ומקרבת הצרה עליו כי ראוי לאדם שלא יחרד מזרוע בשר ודם [ויכין יראת לבו בשם ובוטח בי”י ישוגב מן הצרה בשכר הבטחון אע”פ שהיתה הצרה ראויה לבא עליו והוא שנ’ אחריו רבים מבקשים פני מושל ומי”י משפט איש (כ”ט כ”ו) מי את ותיראי מאנוש ימות (ישעי’ נ”א י”ב)

Here’s a person who is really afraid of the IRS – everyone is afraid of them – but this fellow is one who ends up getting audited.  Now, he may get out of it because he paid his accountants thousands of dollars and his taxes really look good and clean, but he invites himself to be audited by the IRS because of his fear.  Here is another person who goes out on the street at night and thinks he’s in a dangerous place, but in reality he is not – it’s just an ordinary street.  When he’s afraid, he’s inviting tzoros on himself.  And when you tell him that he’s a fool, he’s going to bring a proof and say to you, “But you see, this thing really did happen to me?! You see, it is a dangerous street! You see what happened to me?”  No, you fool –  you made it dangerous, you made this street dangerous for yourself.  That’s what the person must realize.

Fear Removes Hashgacha Pratis

Now, I would like to tell you how this happens – what the dynamics are here.  When a person has fear, he is essentially saying to Hashem, “Hashem, You are not going to protect me, I’ve got to protect myself.”  You know what happens then? You lose your השגחה פרטית that Hashem gives to every Jew!  Every Jew comes with a “security policy” called השגחה פרטית.  The Ramban writes an amazing thing about this concept in the verse (Devarim 20:8), which describes how the Kohen addresses the Jewish army before their battles and specifically tells them not to be afraid because they have a special security, called “Hashem, will take care of you”:

וְיָסְפוּ הַשֹּׁטְרִים לְדַבֵּר אֶל־הָעָם וְאָמְרוּ מִי־הָאִישׁ הַיָּרֵא וְרַךְ הַלֵּבָב יֵלֵךְ וְיָשֹׁב לְבֵיתוֹ וְלֹא יִמַּס אֶת־לְבַב אֶחָיו כִּלְבָבוֹ

(“The officials go on addressing the troops and say, “Is there anyone afraid and disheartened? Let him go back to his home, lest the courage of his comrades flag like his.”)

So if you look into this Ramban, he writes the following: כי מי שירא אחר הבטחת הכהן איננו בוטח בה’ כראוי ולא יעשה לו הנס, that if a person doesn’t believe the Kohen’s promise, that person doesn’t believe in Hashem enough and he doesn’t deserve the miracle of being saved.  The Chofetz Chaim[iii] expressed a similar idea when he described how the Meraglim compared themselves to grasshoppers when they were in front of the giants in Eretz Yisroel (Bamidbar 13:33).  The Chofetz Chaim wonders why the verse emphasizes that they were like grasshoppers:

ונהי בעינינו כחגבים ר”ל ונמס לבבנו ואף אתם אם תבואו שמה ימס לבבכם מפני הפחד וממילא שמירה העליונה תסור ג”כ מכם כי שמירתו היא לפי גדר בטחונו של האדם בו כידוע […כך מתרחש משאובדים את האמונה ואין מכירים בערך העצמי שסבור האדם שבעיני הזולת הוא נחשב כחגב בעוד שהלה מחשיבו כמלאך]

You know why they compared themselves to grasshoppers? Say the Chofetz Chaim – because they said, “We lost our bitachon, and we are telling you, the Jewish people, that if you go to Eretz Yirsoel, your hearts are also going to melt because of the fear.  Just like our hearts melted from fear, yours will also melt.  And as a result, you will not have any protection from Hashem, because that shmira depends upon the level of bitachon in Hashem!” This is what you have to know.

Baseless Fear and Misplaced Bitachon

Now, I would like to clarify a famous, but often misunderstood Gemora in Gittin (55b):

אמר רבי יוחנן מאי דכתיב (משלי כח, יד) אשרי אדם מפחד תמיד ומקשה לבו יפול ברעה אקמצא ובר קמצא חרוב ירושלים

(“Rabbi Yoḥanan said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “Happy is the man who fears always, but he who hardens his heart shall fall into mischief” (Proverbs 28:14)? Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and bar Kamtza.”)

What does this Gemora mean? It means that the churban of the Beis Hamikdash came as a result of people not being as fearful as they should have been.  They should have been more afraid of their situation.  [Now, the Tosfos questions why R’Yohanan brought the verse (אשרי אדם מפחד תמיד) that refers to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash on the account of Kamtza and bar Kamtza, in this Gemora in Gittin]:

אשרי אדם מפחד תמיד – בפ’ הרואה (ברכות ס.) אמרינן חזייה לההוא גברא דהוה מפחד א”ל חטאה את דכתיב פחדו בציון חטאים ופריך מקרא דהכא ומוקי לה בדברי תורה שדואג שלא ישכח תלמודו וחוזר על משנתו תמיד והכא נמי מייתי ליה אהני עובדי שבטחו על רוב טובתם ושלוותם לבייש את בר קמצא ולעמוד על בת קיסר והיה להם לפחד ולדאג מן הפורענות ולא דמי לאדם המתפחד בחנם

Tosfos mentions a Gemora in Brochos (60a), that we discussed above, which taught us that the verse ”אשרי אדם מפחד תמיד” is refers to someone who is afraid to forget his learning and therefore he will always review it [i.e. unlike a totally ‘baseless’ fear that’s rooted in the lack of emuna, the fear of forgetting one’s learning is justified].  If so, says the Tosfos, the Yidden in the story of Bar Kamtza (Gittin 55b) and in the episode with the daughter of Caesar (Gittin 57b) should have been legitimately worried and afraid about being punished for their actions [of embarrassing Bar Kamtza and attacking the daughter of Caesar and her attendants].  So instead of relying on their own goodness and their peaceful lives, they should have been afraid.  And the Tosfos concludes by saying that  this type of fear is very different from a baseless fear.

It’s true, say Tosfos, that one should be afraid about forgetting his learning, as the Gemora in Brochos taught us.  But if a person faces a situation where it’s normal to be afraid and he is not afraid, that’s wrong.  In other words, when the Jews had bitachon in Hashem that nothing would happen to them when they embarrassed Bar Kamtza or attacked Caesar’s daughter – that was called a misplaced bitachon, according to Tosfos. These were situations where the Jews should have been afraid, for their actions could have resulted in punishment by the Romans.  And then Tosfos says, ולא דמי לאדם המתפחד בחנם – “these [justified scenarios of fear] are not similar to a baseless fear” – what Tosfos is saying is that being afraid for no reason is אסור!

Airplanes Don’t Fall on Peoples’ Heads

Now, of course, everyone who is afraid, would say that their fears are לא בחנם – they are not baseless!  One time, a mother who was very worried about her kid’s safety around their neighborhood told me, “Do you know what kind of people live around there?” So I said to her, “Do you know one person on your milk bottle who was kidnapped or taken hostage? You don’t live in Mexico or Guatemala where they kidnap people and hold them hostages?”  It’s one thing when you reject or blow off Caesar – that’s something you should have been concerned about!  That is not called baseless fear.  But when a person is walking outside and thinks that an airplane is going to fall on his head – that’s called baseless fear and that’s wrong.  It’s obvious that if a person has a fear in the correct place, it would be justified to be concerned – you don’t start up with a King or Caesar and say, “I will have bitachon,” you just don’t do that.  If you are stuck and you’re facing him already, then you can have bitachon.  But to “stir up a hornet’s nest” – that’s a sign of a fool, that’s not bitachon!  Also if a person says, “I would like to practice the ‘Brisker Rov’ bitachon – I want to have all these “hornets” flying around me, and I want to have that fear and then I will say, “Hashem, I am boteach in You!” do you know what Hashem will do to you?  He will have you stung all over the place because you are a fool!  So therefore you are not allowed to be סומך on bitachon in a dangerous place and say, “I will have bitachon” – you can’t do that!

Now, are there children somewhere in the world, including the US, who get kidnapped? Yes.  I remember asking one mother what she was afraid of, and she told me she was afraid of “Lindbergh Kidnapping,” referring to Charles Lindbergh’s 20 month old son who was kidnapped and murdered in 1932.  I said to this mother that Lindbergh was a very famous person and some people decided to get even with him and that’s why they did it.  “Why would somebody want to kidnap your kid??” I asked. “Well, there’s a lot of crazies out there today,” she said.  A person has to know that you need to have bitachon and you have to trust Hashem! 

Don’t Text and Drive!

The above are examples of made-up fears, and if you will instill these types of fears in your children, you will bring up and develop unhealthy kids.  Your responsibility is to tell your children not to worry, that Hashem is watching them.  But you also have to  tell them, “You should be careful, don’t do anything stupid, don’t do anything that’s dangerous.” But because, “maybe”, “somehow,” “somebody” may do something to them, and therefore they shouldn’t do it, that’s nonsense.  Yet everyone should know that you don’t drive and text and have bitachon in Hashem!  I was once with someone in a car who was texting on two cell phones: he was holding them in both hands and texting, with one foot down and the other knee holding the wheel – all this while we were going 105 MPH!  I’m serious! I told him right away, “Stop the car and let me out! He said, “Rebbi, what are you talking about?” I said, “You are texting on both phones – you are endangering me from all sides here!”  He said, “Rebbi, I thought you had bitachon!”  I said to him, “I do, but I’m not stupid. I don’t play Russian Roulette with a gun and say that I have bitachon, that’s acting stupid.”  But he did get where we were going in a hurry!

Was Yakov’s Fear Well-Founded?

We would like to turn to our weekly Parsha now, where Yakov Avinu faced his brother, Eisav.  Yakov knew that his brother had clear intentions of killing him.  He also knew that Eisav was powerful, and like Chazal tell us, he knew that his brother – despite all of his weaknesses – had two important merits working on his behalf.  One was the mitzva of כיבוד אב and the other  was living in Eretz Yisroel during all the years Yaakov was with Lavan.  Was Yakov’s fear well-founded or not?  It would seem to us that it was a real, normal fear – that’s what we would say.  It was not an irrational fear.   But Chazal[iv] dissected Yakov’s behavior in a very interesting way.  It says that when Yaakov Avinu was afraid, he did something before he actually met his brother – he sent Eisav a huge present, and Chazal faulted him for that!  They said, “Why did you start up with him? You could have avoided meeting him. Why did you wake up the ‘sleeping dog?’ You went to him and you engaged him because you were afraid – you should not have done that.”  In Part 2, Yakov prepared for the meeting: he davened to Hashem, he prepared the gifts and then he prepared for the battle.  None of these things were wrong, because when you face an adversary you have to prepare!  What Chazal faulted him for, was for sending the messengers to his brother before he met him.  Yakov should have waited until he saw that the encounter was imminent and only then should he have offered the “mincha” to Eisav. 

The Torah tells us how Yakov felt before his encounter with Eisav (Bereishis 32:8),

וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ וַיַּחַץ אֶת־הָעָם אֲשֶׁר־אִתּוֹ וְאֶת־הַצֹּאן וְאֶת־הַבָּקָר וְהַגְּמַלִּים לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת

(“Jacob was greatly frightened and distressed; and he divided the people with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps.”)

My Rebbi said that the order of this verse seems to be reversed.  On a simple level the verse is teaching us that Yakov was petrified from the danger he was facing, and that danger caused him to be afraid.  If so, the pasuk should have first said “he was distressed” by the impending danger, and then it should have said, “And Yakov was afraid.”  The way these things usually work is, first, a person gets bad news from a doctor, r”l, and then they get scared!  So my Rebbi said – in the name of Rama MiPano[v] – that the pshat of “וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ” is that Yakov wasn’t “distressed” because of the impending tzora of facing Eisav.  The reason why he felt distressed (וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ) was because he was afraid of Eisav, and that fear (וַיִּירָא) caused him to feel overwhelmed with tzora!  Yakov was overwhelmed and he felt a “calamity” because he could not get himself out of that fear.  This peshat is also brought down by Malbim.[vi]  Someone who trusts Hashem has no reason to fear a human being, he says.  Fear is an indication that a person’s bitachon is not in order.  The verse in Navi says  (Yeshaya 51:12-13) 

אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי הוּא מְנַחֶמְכֶם מִי־אַתְּ וַתִּירְאִי מֵאֱנוֹשׁ יָמוּת וּמִבֶּן־אָדָם חָצִיר יִנָּתֵן…וַתִּשְׁכַּח הי עֹשֶׂךָ נוֹטֶה שָׁמַיִם וְיֹסֵד אָרֶץ.

(“I, I am He who comforts you! What ails you that you fear man who must die, mortals who fare like grass?”…You have forgotten the LORD your Maker, Who stretched out the skies and made firm the earth!”)

These verses in Navi are telling us that Yakov Avinu had a special promise from Hashem – it wasn’t a נס למעלה מדרך הטבע.  The fact that Yakov Avinu was afraid was a source of great pain to him.  What I see from this verse is that you can have great tzaddikim who have fear – and there is no one greater than Yakov Avinu! But Hashem, for some reason, didn’t enable him to get into the “bitachon mode.”  Yakov was afraid, and because he was afraid, he felt the צער.

The Hafla’ah[vii] (** Is the footnote correct? **) comments on what Yaakov said later on, when he davened to Hashem (Bereishis 32:12),

הַצִּילֵנִי נָא מִיַּד אָחִי מִיַּד עֵשָׂו כִּי־יָרֵא אָנֹכִי אֹתוֹ פֶּן־יָבוֹא וְהִכַּנִי אֵם עַל־בָּנִים

(“Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; else, I fear, he may come and strike me down, mothers and children alike.”)

Yaakov asked Hashem to save him from his brother Eisav “כִּי־יָרֵא אָנֹכִי אֹתוֹ. He was afraid that maybe Eisav would come and smite the “mother together with the children.” And Yaakov said, “You know why I have to daven to you, Hashem, and plead with you to save me from the hand of my brother? Because ‘כִּי־יָרֵא אָנֹכִי אֹתוֹ’ and that’s a sign that I’m not boteach with a complete heart, and I’m not deserving of the salvation.”

My Rebbi said the following on a verse in Psalms (119:39),

הַעֲבֵר חֶרְפָּתִי אֲשֶׁר יָגֹרְתִּי כִּי מִשְׁפָּטֶיךָ טוֹבִים

(“Remove my shame that I dread, for Your rules are good.”) Dovid is telling us that, “because I was afraid – I was embarrassed and it was a shame for me.”  Dovid expressed a similar idea elsewhere (Psalms 27:3),

אִם־תַּחֲנֶה עָלַי מַחֲנֶה לֹא־יִירָא לִבִּי אִם־תָּקוּם עָלַי מִלְחָמָה בְּזֹאת אֲנִי בוֹטֵחַ

(“Should an army besiege me, my heart would have no fear; should war beset me, still would I be confident.”)

In other words, “Hashem is with me, I’m not afraid of any person,” said Dovid. But one time he was afraid, and he said “Hashem, remove that shame for me.”

In Difficult Times, Stay With Hashem – Don’t Let Go!

Every one of you has to know that before you face a situation, it’s a terrible thing to be afraid.  It’s wrong, and it’s really אסור, but besides that – you bring tzoros upon yourself.  When you already face a situation, then it’s not wrong to befearful.  A doctor calls you in, r”l, and he says “we found something.”  What happens to most people?  The “lights go out” in their life.  You know what Hashem wants you to do in that case? Before they make a biopsy and they tell you it’s malignant, Hashem wants you to say, “Hashem I am boteach in You, I trust You – all is going to be well.” A lot of times when a  person gets bad news, he becomes so overwhelmed and so fearful (and the growth may not even be malignant), that he convinces himself that he’s actually dying.

There was once a woman who called me, and she said that her doctor found some “serious spots” on her liver.  This lady was not “Mrs. Tough,” she was a very fearful woman by nature.  She was convinced that her life was over.  I explained to her, “If you are convinced that your life is over, it may very well be over, but it’s going to be over because you brought it upon yourself, you shut the lights off on yourself.  However, if you convince yourself that it’s not over, that it is just a test, and Hashem is just testing you to see if you will trust in Him, and if you will trust him maybe it won’t be as bad as you think.”  I spoke to her for a long time to try to convince her to let go of her fear and she finally got there.  She called me a number of times after that, and then came the “big day” she called me again in the morning and said that she was a little nervous, but that “Hashem will be with me.”  The doctor went inside to take biopsy samples. One of the doctors said that from the number of samples they took out, it “seemed bad.”  But it turned out to be alright. I told her, “You see what happened? You see??”

I remember a yungerman, a relative of mine, called me on Erev Rosh Hashanah, to tell me that “he had something.”  The doctors said it didn’t look good.  I asked him, “Did you make a biopsy?” He said, “No.” I told him, “Hashem wants you to trust in Him that it’s going to be 100% good, and every time you have that trust it’s a tremendous zechus for you.”  A few weeks later he called me back and said it was not good, it was bad news.  I told him, “So, now, Hashem wants you to trust in him that it’s going to be good.”  And he did trust Hashem – it was amazing! He was a young budding Talmid Chacham and he merited to see tremendous hashgacha, and in the end, he didn’t make it.  But he died fearless.  He did many mitzvahs for the next few months, he learned as much as he could with his chavrusos.  They wrote a whole book about him – he was only 30 years old.  He was tremendous! “Hashem wants me to trust Him – I am going to trust Him,” he said.  He used to call me and ask, “Does Hashem want me to trust Him now?” And I would tell, “Yes, Hashem wants you to trust Him now.”  He wanted me to tell him the source for this and I told him it’s a Gemora in Brochos (10a):

כָּךְ מְקּוּבְּלַנִי מִבֵּית אֲבִי אַבָּא, אֲפִילּוּ חֶרֶב חַדָּה מוּנַּחַת עַל צַוָּארוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם, אַל יִמְנַע עַצְמוֹ מִן הָרַחֲמִים

(“I [Hezekiah] have received a tradition from the house of my father’s father, from King David, that even if a sharp sword rests upon a person’s neck, he should not withhold himself from praying for mercy.”) 

Don’t Remove Mercy From Yourself!

The question is – what is this term “אַל יִמְנַע עַצְמוֹ מִן הָרַחֲמִים? These words sound like Hashem wants to give a person רַחֲמִים but the person himself prevents the הָרַחֲמִים from coming to him.  What kind of a nut is going to do that? When Hashem wants to give a person רַחֲמִים, what kind of a person would want to prevent it?  The answer is, says the Baal Shem Tov, when a person is in a tzora or in danger, you know what helps him in that time more than anything else? Bitachon.  The more he strengthens himself, the more he is zoiche for מדת הרחמים.  But when a person removes bitachon from himself, he removes the מדת הרחמים from himself!  That’s why it says here that even if a sharp knife is on your neck, don’t withhold  רַחֲמִים from yourself.  This means: “don’t be the one who causes the attribute of רַחֲמִים to be taken away from you!”

Let me tell you something.  I’ve been with too many people who suffered and then died.  They were wrecks.  When you have no bitachon – when you remove the hashgacha of Hashem and his הָרַחֲמִים from your own self – it’s awful!  You can’t imagine the “tunnel of darkness” that these people described to me:  how they were in a tunnel filled with screeching all around them and they thought about every negative thing possible! It’s awful!  But then you see individuals who know that there’s a hashgacha of Hashem and they know that Hashem knows what He’s doing, and they say, “Hashem, if you want me to trust in you, and you want me to be boteach in you, I will.”  I speak to people all the time who say to me, “But I’m so afraid! How am I going to marry off my daughter – do you know how much chasunas cost? How am I going to make all the Bar Mitzvahs? How am I going to pay for all the camps? How am I going to buy a new car or my first house?”  They have such  fear! And I tell them, “Don’t you know that Hashem knows your situation?” Most people buy houses, most people buy cars, most people send their kids to camps – why would you be different from everybody else?  Trust in Hashem and אל ימנע עצמך מן הרחמים!

[i] “A person should never stand in a place of danger saying [that on High] they will perform a miracle for him, lest in the end they do not perform a miracle for him. And, moreover, even if they do perform a miracle for him, they will deduct it from his merits.” לְעוֹלָם אַל יַעֲמוֹד אָדָם בְּמָקוֹם סַכָּנָה לוֹמַר שֶׁעוֹשִׂין לוֹ נֵס, שֶׁמָּא אֵין עוֹשִׂין לוֹ נֵס. וְאִם עוֹשִׂין לוֹ נֵס — מְנַכִּין לוֹ מִזְּכֻיוֹתָיו

[ii] It is well known that Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l was exceedingly health conscious with matters of personal hygiene. 

[iii] (pg.280) ליקוטי חפץ חיים על דעה והשקפה, (pg. 315) החפץ חיים חייו ופעלו

[iv] See Bereishis Rabbah (75:3) explaining the verse in Mishley (26:17), מַחֲזִיק בְּאָזְנֵי־כָלֶב עֹבֵר מִתְעַבֵּר עַל־רִיב לֹּא־לוֹ

[v] See “Asara Ma’amoros” (pg. 50/307), it is quoted here for full context:

וככר ה”ה מצר יעקב  מה שהוכרח ליראה את עשו כדכתיב ויירא יעקב מאד ועל זה ויצר לו ומיד השתדל בהצל ונעור בתפלה כי אמנם יראת הפגעים היא רצועה בישא תתח אלקים קדושים שהרחיקוה מעליהם יעקב ויוסף כמו שהעירה תורה משמו של כל אחר מהם התחת אלקים אני רצו בזה לא תהא יראתנו אלא את האלקים את כבודו ואת גדלו

[vi] See Bereishis (32:8), where Malbim says that Yakov Avinu should have trusted Hashem and should not have been afraid. Quoted here for full context:

ויירא יעקב מאד :הנה הבוטח בה’ אין לו לירא מב”ו, והיראה מורה שאין בטחונו כראוי, כמ”ש מי את ותראי מאנוש ימות ותשכח ה’ עושך, בפרט שיעקב היה לו הבטחה מה’ ולא היה לו לירא, וה’ אינו .עושה נס למעלה מדרך הטבע רק למי שבוטח עליו בכל לבו, ואחר שראה יעקב שהוא מתירא, לכן ויצר לו, שזאת עצמו הצר לו שמזה דן שאינו ראוי לנסים אחר שבטחונו בלתי שלם, וע”כ נסה לעשות הכנות טבעיות ותכסיסי מלחמה

[vii]See Sefer Panim Yafos [Rav Pinhas Horowitz] (pg. 35/218) where he says, היינו כמ”ש בר”פ וישלח מה שאמר יעקב הצילני נא מיד אחי מיד עשו כי ירא אנכי אותו שהיה פחד יעקב מחמת היראה שירא אותו

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