Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 31 October 2015 / 18 Heshvan 5776

Troubled Times

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

From: Shlomo

Dear Rabbi,

With all of the terrible attacks taking place in Israel and Jerusalem, I am confused about what the proper Jewish approach or response should be. Should we, or is it permitted to, feel fear? Should we, or is it permitted to, take precautions? If so, what would they be and what should one’s intentions be when taking those steps?

Dear Shlomo,

These are in fact very difficult times, and it’s very important to address the concerns you raise, which are shared by many other people as well.

When Jacob was returning to the Land of Israel and about to encounter Esav, he prayed to G-d to spare him because, according to his own admission, Jacob feared him.

Rashi notes that, given G-d’s promise to return Jacob and his progeny to the Land of Israel in safety, Jacob should not have been concerned. So what was he afraid of? Rashi explains that he did not fear Esav per se, but rather he feared the consequences of any transgressions he might have had, whose punishment might be meted out through Esav.

So here too, if there is any room for fear, ideally it should be over our transgressions, which should be an impetus for teshuva and improvement.

Even though this is the ideal, the reality is that most people actually do feel varying degrees of physical fear as a result of these types of threats of danger. One who feels this form of fear is not transgressing, but he should still try to transform this fear in a productive way. This can take the form of spiritual improvement as I mentioned, or at least by fostering precautionary measures whose implementation should defuse the fear.

Accordingly, one may and should take steps to guard and protect oneself. This can take many forms, some of which could include: keeping abreast on what’s happening when and where in order to avoid going to places of violence; being on the alert wherever one is by paying attention to what’s going on within eyeshot in all directions around us, finding a safe balance between being in a crowd and being too far from one; and standing or navigating a course within sheltering or protecting objects.

When one takes these types of precautions, one’s intention should not be of panic and despair, but rather of empowerment through fulfilling the Divine command to protect oneself.

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