By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman, Dean, Cheder Chabad of Monsey
We are now in the Hebrew month of Elul, just a few weeks away from Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays – a time of reflection, introspection and taking on new resolutions with which to enhance our lives, spiritually and meaningfully.
Cheder Chabad of Monsey hopes that these weekly Torah thoughts will help inspire to achieve those goals. All the students, staff and administration of Cheder Chabad of Monsey wish you and yours a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. May this year be the year of the full and complete redemption with the coming of our righteous Moshiach - now!
What makes a hero?
In this week’s Parshah, Shoftim (Devorim [Deuteronomy] 16:18–21:9),the Torah discusses the laws of war and some of the moral imperatives that apply even under fire. Specifically, we read of the exemptions that entitled a soldier to leave the battlefront. One of these was "the man who is fearful and fainthearted." The Torah rules that "he should go and return to his home" and join the civil service, lest his cowardice "melt the hearts" of his comrades in arms and demoralize them (Deuteronomy 20:8).
Interestingly, Maimonides rules that this exemption only applied to wars which were optional for political or territorial reasons (milchemet ho'reshut), but not to obligatory wars where the Torah itself mandates that we go to battle (milchemet mitzvah), such as a war of self defense or the wars to conquer the Promised Land.
But what is the logic here? Why the distinction? If the problem is that the coward's fear will have a negative effect on his fellow combatants, then that is a psychological fact of life. What difference does it make if the war is mandated by G-d or by Jewish leadership of the day? Surely a coward is a coward whatever the war!
But Maimonides is sharing with us a striking analysis of human nature. Fear and anxiety are magnified when there is more than one option open to us. When we have the choice of fighting or not, when war is not strictly commanded by G-d and it's a government decision, then I may very well choose to retreat. But when there is no choice, when it is a non-negotiable mitzvah from G-d that this war be fought, then even cowards become heroes.
That famous American philosopher, John Wayne once said, "True courage is not the absence of fear. True courage is being really scared and saddling up anyway." Now that's a wise cowboy. The fearless few who heedlessly plunge into every offered challenge are indeed strange exceptions to our race. Most normal people experience fear in scary situations. Those of good courage face up to the fear and confront it.
When something just has to happen, we find a way to make it happen. We pluck up the courage and act valiantly.
There are religious Jews, used to be, or still are, chain smokers. But it is amazing to see that the same person who would never be without a cigarette between his fingers six days a week was able to go cold turkey every Shabbat. For six days he couldn't wait two minutes, but once a week he waited for 25 hours! How? The answer is that keeping Shabbat for him was simply a non-negotiable commitment, so he had no option and persevered. As soon as Shabbat was over, though, he and his fellow Shabbat-observant smokers would make a mad dash for the nearest pack.
It applies to life, to marriage, to business, to everything. If something is so important to us that to lose it would be unthinkable, we discover that we really can find a way, after all. In our Jewish lives, too, when we accept that a particular mitzvah is a sacred principle and inviolate, we will observe it no matter what the challenge.
So, cowards of the world, unite! Let us do what we know must be done. That's how ordinary people become heroes.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org - by Rabbi Yossy Goldman)
May you have a meaningful and uplifting Shabbos!