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Dovid Vigler

Who is the bravest person you know?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-red-tank-top-jumping-on-obstacle-3763879/

The Courage to Live Without Fear

On Friday, June 9, 2023, an incredible story of courage and survival broke across the world. Four siblings, aged one to thirteen, had survived a plane crash in the treacherous Amazon Jungle and were miraculously found after forty days of surviving in one of the most dangerous places in the world. The courage of these children knows no bounds.

Watch this emotional story, titled “Lost in the Amazon: How Four Child Survivors of Plane Crash Were Found | WSJ” by clicking here: https://youtu.be/UNKEAHPljUg

I often hear people describe a loved one going through a grave medical crisis as the bravest person they know. But there’s a profound lesson in courage that the Torah teaches us that infuses grace and dignity into the way we approach all of our problems, in a way that radically redefines this noble human virtue.

When our ancestors were at the threshold of the Promised Land, they sent spies to scout out the conquest. Ten of the twelve spies reported that the Holy Land was too difficult to conquer and advised their leaders to abort the mission. Mutiny resulted, and G-d’s wrath was aroused. It was decreed that the Nation wander in the desert for forty years until their children were ready to proceed into Israel.

At first glance, it seems like the Jews did nothing wrong and that G-d’s anger was unjustified. The Land of Israel was indeed well-fortified, as Moses himself later testifies. What then was the crime that the Jews committed?

In a sermon delivered on August 14, 1971, the Rebbe gave an answer to this question that deeply impacted my worldview. He explained that whilst their report was accurate, their conclusions were not. Countless times already, the Jews had faced impossible obstacles, yet G-d had miraculously carried them through. Choosing to react with fear was a deep affront to their Heavenly Father. Instead of fear, they should have reacted with faith and confidence in G-d’s salvation.

To have faith is to invite G-d into our lives. To have fear is to expel G-d from our lives. When you focus on your problems, it gives you more problems; when you focus on G-d, He gives you solutions.

John Wayne famously said that “courage is not the absence of fear. It’s being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” But the Torah is teaching us that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Courage is indeed the absence of fear. It is the awareness that G-d has brought you through before and that he will bring you through again. Courage is a bold decision each day to choose faith over fear.

The Torah makes this point abundantly clear in its exquisite narrative of the fear that the Jews were facing on the doorstep of the Promised Land. The two “two good spies” passionately encouraged the Jews to “not rebel against G-d by displaying fear” (Numbers 14:9). They assure the Jews that, with G-d on their side, nothing could stand in their way. As long as we don’t chase G-d’s blessing from our lives —“G-d is with us, as long as you don’t fear” (ibid.)

Though fearlessness might come as a surprise, it’s actually the most oft-repeated directive in the entire Torah—”Al Tira, Do not fear.” More than 110 times, the Torah instructs us to not be afraid!

If that’s not enough, it is the opening words with which we usher in the chaos of a new week on Saturday evening at the close of Shabbos–”Hinei Kel y’shuasi, ev’tach velo ef’chad (Behold, the G-d of my salvation, in Whom I trust, and I have no fear).”

They are also the very last words we recite before leaving the safety of the sanctuary and entering into the world outside three times a day at the conclusion of our daily prayers. We say “Al Tirah” to remind us that, if nothing else, in the world we are about to enter we should never, ever be afraid!

It’s not a question of whether things will be rough—it’s only a question of when. And when that happens, the challenge is how we will react. As harmless as it sounds, our internal emotional response is ground zero of the battleground. Our faith draws the miracles of G-d upon us; our fear repels them. Our destiny is truly in our hearts.

Since the beginning of time, G-d has been telling us not to fear; the question is whether or not we’ve been listening! You can worry, or you can trust G-d, but you can’t do both!

Essentially, life is a series of Divine tests. It’s not a sprint, it’s a hurdle race, where your obstacles are part of the journey toward victory. Don’t allow your trials to dishearten you; they’ve been placed there for a very specific purpose. When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it!

Admittedly, faith doesn’t come easily. Our ancestors failed to connect the dots of the extraordinary experiences that they had endured, overlooking them as random or scientific phenomena. It behooves us to undo their error by deeply contemplating the miracles that we have already experienced in our lives and see the miraculous hand of G-d that has already done so much for us. Faith is taking the first step even when we don’t see the full staircase.

I understand that fear is natural. It’s built into our psyche to protect us from hurting ourselves. Letting go of it is nothing short of insane. But letting go of fear in order to let G-d, is nothing short of sublime. We read the story of the Spies of the Promised Land each year to drive home this truth ever deeper into our consciousness—that this choice is the story of our national survival, it is the story of our history, it’s vital for us to learn and apply.

Both faith and fear demand that you believe in something you cannot see. Which will you choose?

It’s time for us to enter our Promised Land!

_______________________
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens

6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
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About the Author
Raised in South Africa and educated in some of the finest Yeshivas in Israel, England, New York, and Australia, Rabbi Dovid Vigler strives to share the beauty and depth of Judaism in a clear, conversational, and down-to-earth manner. Whether in private counseling, relatable sermons, weekly email broadcasts, or in his popular Torah classes on social media, he reaches out to every Jew with unconditional love, patience, and compassion. His inspirational talks and uplifting messages can be found on YouTube.com/JewishGardens and Facebook.com/JewishGardens
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