Table Talk: Shofetim: Fear Print

Table TalkInfectious Fear: “The officers shall continue speaking to the people and say: ‘Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not me;t the heart of his fellows, like his heart.” (Deuteronomy 20:8) Any one who leaves the battle must bring witnesses that he is newly married or just planted a vineyard. Rabbi Yose holds that even the man who is fearful, must bring witnesses that he sinned so that he has reason to be scared. Rabbi Akiva holds that a person who leaves because he is simply frightened of war may leave without bringing witnesses. (See Nachmanides Commentary on the Torah) The Bible has numerous stories of how one frightened or negative person may cause the entire community to suffer. The Children of Israel did not complain about the long lines waiting to appear before Moshe. After Yitro raised the issue, the nation began to complain. One person affected all. Have you ever experienced one person bringing down an entire group? Have you ever done so? Why is fear a more powerful influence than courage?

Which sin did this man commit to make him fear that he would not have God’s protection in battle? He spoke during davening. He distracted others from their prayers. Is the Talmud telling us that even less significant sins make us vulnerable? Or, are they teaching us that a person who damages a sense of community does not belong in battle as part of an army?

Would you be willing to admit your fear in front of the army so that you can go home? Would you be willing to bring witnesses that you sinned and had reason to be frightened? Why is the man who returns home from battle because of fear so willing to humiliate himself just to avoid battle? Or, is the Torah telling us that it is specifically the person who has no sense of dignity who is the dangerous influence? How does this reflect on our approach to establishing a Chaburah – a group of people who want to form a group to help each other work on their development and service of God? How would this apply to people who want to build a community?