My children spent the day on the Gaza Border giving out popsicles to the soldiers going into battle. Of course, to cover all the religious bases, and because we are a Chabad family, they also put on tefillin with the soldiers.
This was their idea completely. They rented a car, bought the popsicles, and off they went. (I’m still confused about how they didn’t melt. It was must be a miracle!) I’m very proud of them for what they did. Not because they care about soldiers who are risking their lives for Israel, although that’s wonderful. And not because they demonstrated selflessness by caring about others taking such huge risks for their freedom, although that’s admirable.
Rather, the reason I’m proud is because they weren’t afraid.
We currently have four children in Israel, thank God, and by next week it will be five. My children’s love for Israel, and their willingness to overcome fear in serving the soldiers of an embattled democracy, gives me pride as an American, as a father, and as a Jew.
As an American because this great country was the first to tell the tyrants of Europe ‘We’re not afraid.’ Every single signatory to the Declaration of Independence knew that they could imminently find themselves hanging from a gallows. Kings used fear for millennia to rob their people of freedom. But the single greatest characteristic of the founding fathers was their contempt for fear. “Give me liberty of give me death,” shouted Patrick Henry in 1775 Virginia.
We’re losing some of that in America today. We raise our kids to be afraid to walk home from school by themselves. And our freedom is farmed out to two percent of the population: the courageous and incomparable soldiers of the American military.
As a father my kids make me proud because fear is the most limiting emotion there is, especially for children. Not that Hamas is not dangerous, mind you. They are cold-blooded killers, heartless murderers, as dangerous as they come. We must never underestimate the threat to life posed by Hamas. Hamas lives to kill Jewish children. They are genocidal terrorists who believe that murdering Jews is the highest virtue and will get them into heaven. I want my children to be absolutely aware of the dangers every Hamas rockets poses. False bravado in the face of Hamas means being contemptuous of life. Being in close proximity to Hamas is one of the most dangerous things in the entire world today.
But in my book “Face Your Fear” I distinguish between fear and caution. Fear is an hysterical reaction to an imagined threat while caution is a calculated response to a real danger. There is a world of difference between them. Fear is imprisoning, locking your potential on the inside.
How many Jews are afraid to go to Israel right now? How many are watching this war from afar happy that there is an ocean separating them from the murderous rockets of Palestinian terrorists?
I don’t blame them and I personally have never served in any military. So who am I to speak?
But to be afraid is to suffer. Fear constitutes the most intense form of human oppression. When you are afraid, you cannot be happy. Fear is the single most destructive emotion in the heart’s armory, the single greatest roadblock that you will encounter in your search for fulfillment and happiness. If you live with fear you can be sure that you will die with most of your dreams unfulfilled. Unless you conquer fear, it will conquer you. Fear not only prevents you from fulfilling your greatest destiny, but it threatens to rob you of your very identity by destroying everything about you that is unique. To be afraid is to be transformed from a human being of destiny to a creature with no future.
Fear is a permanent tormentor. Unless the world vanquishes fear, it will lead to the rise of more terrorists like Hamas who will exploit fear in order to gain power.
Unless we overcome superstition, we will never find religion.
It is time for the Jewish people to fight back, to declare that we are not at the mercy of our fears. It is time to join battle in a constant and daily struggle to conquer our apprehensions: to understand why they plague us and to find a way to purge them from our lives so that we can finally be free.
For thousands of years to be a Jew meant being afraid. Afraid of anti-Semites, afraid of pogroms, afraid of the Church, afraid of Islam.
Israel was a collective statement on the part of an oppressed and persecuted people that they were tired of being afraid. That fear could no longer be a Jewish birthright.
In the modern world, there are tremendous forces bearing down upon us: financial pressures, familial responsibilities, the fear of random acts of senseless violence, and the fear of illness, just to name a few. We are constantly confronted with the horrors of history and of life: senseless hatred, poverty, famine, lifelessness, loneliness, and death. In a world that is increasingly empty of God and bereft of soul, we feel hollow on the inside, causing us to succumb to the pressures of the outside.
But the greatest guarantee of a mediocre life is a life lived in fear. Human greatness begins where submission to fear ends. You cannot become wealthy like Bill Gates without first casting aside the fear that you will fail, without risking capital and prestige. You cannot become a Winston Churchill if you are intimidated by the evil power which you must fight. You can’t get a college degree if you’re afraid of taking tests, and you can’t win an Olympic Gold medal if you’re afraid of losing a race. You cannot marry your soul-mate unless you first overcome your fear of commitment. You cannot become the parent you wish to be unless you first transcend the fear of bringing a brand new life into a cold and heartless world. And you can never maximize your fullest potential if you live in the permanent fear that you just won’t measure up.
Always remember that it is courage rather than caution that leads to real achievement and a fulfilling life. And while Hamas, Iran, Islamic Jihad and countless other Islamist radicals are dedicated to the annihilation of the Jewish people, this ancient people has decided that, as Franklin Roosevelt expressed it so eloquently in his State of the Union address of 6 January, 1941, every human being is endowed with the right to be free of fear.
“Freedom from fear,” he said, “translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.”
This is why Israel is fighting Hamas: to rid this murderous, genocidal group of terrorists of the rockets and arms they employ in their hell-bent desire to perpetrate a second holocaust.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America”, is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including “Face Your Fear: Finding Courage in an Age of Caution.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.