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    How to Deal With Fear

    Through the media, we are c o n s t a n t l y bombarded by death. This preoccupation with death tends to prey on a person’s mind and fill him with fears and worries. So too, as we hear of reports of young people finding ‘lumps,’ rachmono litzlon, on their bodies, or having sudden heart attacks, it fills us with much anxiety. Let’s take a look at what the Torah teaches us about fear and worry. In Masechtas Brochos [60a], the Gemora relates an incident about a certain disciple who was walking behind Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yossi, in the marketplace of Tzion. Rabbi Yishmael noticed that the student was fearful and commented, “You are a sinner,” for it states, ‘Sinners are fearful in Tzion.’” Thus we see that fear is considered a sin. The Gemora relates further that Yehuda Bar Nosson was once walking behind Rav Hamnuna. The latter heard him sigh and commented (because of his worry and fear), “Do you want to bring suffering upon yourself? For it states in Iyov [3:24], “Ki pachad pachad’ti vaye’esayeini — I have been fearful, and that which I feared came upon me.” This sentiment is echoed by the great Chassidic master, the Pele Yoetz. He asks, What gain will a person accrue by fear and worry? If it is the decree of Hashem, then his worry won’t help a whit and if not then he is simply saddled with the aggravation of needless fear and distress. Furthermore, he proceeds, sometimes he brings upon himself that which he is worrying about because of the worry itself! So we see that it is not only sinful to worry, it is downright dangerous! Puzzling enough, elsewhere the Navi sings the praises of fear! In the wisdom of Mishlei, the Posuk states, “Ashrei adam m’facheid tamid — Fortunate is the person who is always fearful!” The Talmud in Brochos observes this apparent contradiction and responds that to worry about Torah is different. On the simple level, this means if one worries that he might forget his learning, and this prompts him to review his studies, this is productive worry. The Maharsha elaborates that worrying about Torah is not the only manifestation of permissible worry. Rather, any worry and fear which is positive and fruitful is to be commended. On the verse “Ashrei adam m’fached tamid,” Rashi [in Tractate Gittin, 55b] explains that this refers to a person who worries about what the future might bring because of his deeds and takes precautions to avoid any action which might cause future repercussions. In Mishlei, he states succinctly that it refers to a person who is afraid of punishment and therefore distances himself from sin. Thus, for example, a person who is fearful of the statement, “A door which doesn’t open for the poor will have to open for a doctor,” (Kitzur Shulchan Oruch), will be motivated by this positive fear and take action to tend to the needs of the poor. Such positive fear will result in greater care towards many of our mitzvahs. Thus, regarding one who is in fear of choking on his food and thus denies himself the pleasures of eating, this is certainly bad. But, if this prompts him to make a more meaningful bracho of ‘shehakol nihye bidvaro,’ or if this adds another element of thanks to his bentching, or it makes him more wary about talking loshon hora at the table, then this is meaningful fear indeed! So too, if the fear of food poisoning, mad cow’s disease or ecoli, or catching an infectious disease from a food handler prompts him to be more careful with kashrus, that is wonderful! If one is afraid of burglars in the night (especially one whose security has been shattered by a previous break in), and this prompts him to say Krias Shema al Hamitta with concentration (for the Gemora teaches us that it protects one from the ‘damagers’ of the night), and if he says the blessing during Maariv “Haskiveinu Hashem Elokeinu l’shalo-m” (that Hashem should allow us to sleep in peace) with intent, then this is a very productive fear. This will equally apply to one who, because of a fear of car crashes, says Tefillas Haderech with fervor! The Pele Yoetz adds that, although one should not sit around and worry, it is proper to be concerned and that should there be steps of protection that exist, they should definitely be taken. Thus he says we should engage in preventive prayer. Therefore, one who is afraid of cancer, Rachmono litzlon, should constantly pray for good health, as the Gemora advises, “L’olam y’vakesh adam shelo yecheleh — One should always pray not to become sick.” Parents should pray every morning that the children should be safe when coming on and off their school bus! So too, the many who have sleepless nights because of fiscal worries should indulge in fervent prayers during the blessing of Bareich Aleinu in the Shemone Esrei. In the same vein, the M’tzudas Tzion in Mishlei gives a practical explanation to the verse “Ashrei adam m’facheid tamid.” He says in essence that one is to be praised who takes steps to avoid the dangers of those things he fears. Thus, one who is terrified by reports of drownings should never venture into the swimming pool without a lifeguard. One who hears about escalating numbers of breast cancer cases should be sure to schedule a regular mammogram at the proper intervals. So too, one who hears about tragic inoperable lung cancer should make sure that no one in the family smokes! Fear of car accidents should generate use of seat-belts, and the fear of muggings should alert a person where not to go alone or where not to go at night. Avos D’Rabbi Nosson [9:5] teaches, “Do not despair from retribution. Rather, one should worry each day that perhaps today or tomorrow one’s sins will catch up with him.” This too is considered fruitful worry for it motivates a person to always be engaged in doing teshuva (repentance) which erases one’s misdeeds and obviates the need for punishment. Initially, we cited from the Gemora in Brochos that unproductive fear is considered a sin. Exactly which sin is it referring to? Perhaps, the source of the sin is the lack of bitachon (trust in Hashem). Indeed, the Pele Yoetz cites, as a counter to fear, the verse “V’habotei’ach b’Hashem chesed yesov’venhu — One who trusts in Hashem is always encircled by kindness!” The Hebrew word for worry is daaga. This word has a noteworthy oddity. It is spelled using four of the five first letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Of aleph, beis, gimel daled and hei, it is missing only the beis. Perhaps this is to signify that if the beis, which stands for bitachon is missing, then there is worry! May Hashem bless us all with a life of good health and happiness, and much prosperity both spiritually and in gashmius!!