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For the week ending 11 November 2023 / 27 Cheshvan 5784

Taamei Hamitzvos

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Reasons behind the Mitzvos: Fear of the Enemy

By Rabbi Shmuel Kraines

Mitzvah 525 (see also mitzvah 526)

You might say in your heart, “These nations are greater than me! How can I possibly conquer them?” Do not fear them; you shall surely remember what Hashem your G-d did to Pharaoh and to all the Egyptians…Do not be terrified of them, for Hashem your L-rd is in your midst — the great and awesome Hashem! (Devarim 7:17-21)

THE MITZVAH

We are commanded to refrain from being afraid of our enemies during battle, and not to flee from them. It is our obligation to stand up against the enemies of the Jewish People (Sefer HaChinuch).

Fear comes upon a person involuntarily. The Torah therefore advises to think thoughts that dispel fear, such as remembering that the omnipotent Hashem is among us and fighting for us, and remembering what He did to the Egyptians who came upon us (Malbim to v. 18).

Reason One: Fear Weakens

Soldiers are commanded not to fear the enemy since this will cause them to flee, and flight is the beginning of defeat (Rabbi Menachem HaBavli, based on Sotah 8:6).
Rambam (Melachim 7:15): “Once a soldier enters battle, he must place his trust upon the Hope of Israel and their Savior in their time of distress, and he must realize that he is fighting for Hashem’s sake. He should therefore place his life in His hands and should not fear. He should not think about his loved ones, but should rather erase their memories from his heart and focus entirely on the battle. Anyone who begins to think and worry, and brings terror upon himself, has transgressed this commandment. Moreover, the lives of the whole nation are dependent upon him, and therefore, if he does not fight with all his heart and soul, [but rather succumbs to feelings of terror], it is as if he has murdered. It is thus written, and he shall not cause his fellow [soldiers’] hearts to melt like his own. On the other hand, a soldier who fights with all his heart and without fear, and whose intent is only to sanctify Hashem’s name, is assured that he will not be harmed, and he will merit to establish a family and bear progeny and merit eternal life in the World to Come.”

Reason Two: For the Honor of Hashem and His Nation

Fighting on Behalf of the Jewish People Is a Matter of Hashem’s Honor. We Are Therefore Commanded to Trust in Hashem and Not Care About Our Bodies When We Have the Opportunity to Convey Glory to Hashem and His Nation (Sefer Hachinuch). [In Addition, by Fearing People as if They Have the Power to Harm Us Against Hashem’s Will, We Are Being Disrespectful to Hashem, Who Has Commanded Us to Trust in Him.

Reason Three: Fear Has Negative Spiritual Effects

Hashem Promised the Jewish People That When They Observe the Torah, He Will Deliver All of Their Enemies Into Their Hands, and He Therefore Commanded Us Not to Fear. Fear of People Comes From a Weakness of Character. It Can Also Be Harmful, Because When a Person Becomes Afraid, the Angel That Protects Him Becomes Weakened, and He Strengthens His Foes and Brings Upon Himself Calamities That He Does Not Deserve. Conversely, if Someone Trusts in Hashem and Does Not Fear the Enemy, He Can Merit to Be Spared Even From Deserved Harm (Rabbeinu Bachaye (v. 25) And Shem Mishmuel (Moadim, Zechor Bris 5675) Based on Mishlei 29:25; Rabbeinu Yonah to Mishlei 3:26; See Beginning of Chovos Halevavos, Shaar Habitachon).

Reason Four: Contradiction to Fear of Hashem

When we take to heart that He is One and Only, we revere Hashem and fear disobeying His will. This also means that we should not fear others, who cannot harm us against Hashem’s will. Fear of Hashem and fear of others are therefore mutually exclusive, and when a person fears people, he automatically removes some of his fear of Hashem. The Torah therefore commands us to recall that Hashem is a “great and awesome G-d,” meaning that we should fear only Him, and nobody else (Kad HaKemach: Yirah; see also Ibn Ezra).

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