Parshat Devarim: Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

Fear and stress (PxHere)

In our most challenging moments in life, we can feel embittered and disempowered. The weight of our own fears and anxieties, matched with the towering hurdles we must clear, can place an immense strain on ourselves. However, there is one truth that we can always find solace in: Hashem is always there, in our highs and lows, experiencing our struggles and triumphs with us. In Parshat Devarim, this critical idea is found, and its implications are life-changing.

Sefer Devarim begins with Moshe Rabbeinu recounting the events over the past 40 years, the interim between Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt and arriving just outside Eretz Yisrael (The Land of Israel). Moshe also tells of more recent events, including his appointment of Yehoshua as the leader who will finally lead Bnei Yisrael into Israel.

In the last pesukim of the Torah, Moshe says, “I also charged Joshua at that time, saying, ‘You have seen with your own eyes all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings; so shall the LORD do to all the kingdoms into which you shall cross over. Do not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who will battle for you” (Devarim 3:21-22).

It’s specifically the last line of the parsha, in which Moshe tells Yehoshua “Do not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who will battle for you,” that speaks to a groundbreaking thought: Fear is not beneficial, and in fact, we should not be afraid at all. This is the first part of this idea, and Rav Kook excellently speaks on this subject, differentiating between fear and caution.

“Fear is unsophisticated,” Rav Kook writes. “In truth, a person need not fear anything. One is only required to show caution. The more one fears, the more one stumbles, and the fear of fear itself makes this even worse. Therefore, one must be firm in one’s mind that there is nothing to fear at all” (Middot Hareiyah, “Pachdanut” 4)[1].

This is a big thought. Essentially, Rav Kook is saying that, in those times when anxiety and stress hold us tight and chilling thoughts whisper in our ears, we are tripping ourselves — not that this is intentionally done, only that we should recognize that the notion of fear should be dismantled and cast aside. Instead, we should adopt caution: calculated decisions with thoughtful considerations, without fear to paralyze us.

What exactly justifies Rav Kook’s firm dismissal of harnessing fear? That is found in the latter portion of the aforementioned pasuk that, “it is the LORD your God who will battle for you.” We are each a piece of Hashem, a divine expression of Him. Therefore, our battles are His battles, our difficulties, His fears. As we often say, “Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness, I fear no harm, for You are with me” (Tehillim 23:4).

Hashem is living, so to speak, through our pain and success with us. The vicissitudes of our lives are like the notes of an orchestra’s symphony, and Hashem is the Conductor. We are never alone, and we will never be abandoned, even when that may seem to be the case.

Throughout Bnei Yisrael’s lows in the desert, whether they were complaining of their thirst or fearing their future battles, Hashem was always there, fighting with them, for them. Hashem is with us every step of the way in our journey of life, so we need not fear anything at all.

[1] As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 166

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter studied for one year at Yeshivat Orayta and is now studying at Yeshiva University. He enjoys writing on a spectrum of topics, including the weekly parsha and the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
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