When fear itself is the one thing not to fear
The Month of the Bride
In love, as in every other engagement, the one who takes
the initiative determines the nature of the encounter
A TELLING STORY: The Military Method
The Rebbe who came to instruct the soldiers and learned
something about how battles are won
In the 20th chapter of Deuteronomy, the Torah instructs how
a Jewish army is to prepare for battle:
When you come near to the battle, the priest shall approach
and speak to the people. And he should say to them: Hear,
O Israel! You draw near today to wage war upon your enemies;
let not your hearts soften, fear not, and do not panic nor
break ranks before them. For it is G-d your G-d who goes with
you, to fight for you against your enemies, to deliver you.
And the officers shall address the people, saying: Is
there a man [among you] who has built a new house and has
not inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his home, lest
he die in battle and another man inaugurate it.
Is there a man who has planted a vineyard and has
not redeemed its first crop? Let him go and return
to his home, lest he die in battle and another man redeem
Is there a man who has betrothed a woman and has
not married her? Let him go and return to his home, lest he
die in battle and another man marry her.
And the officers shall further address the people, and
say: Is there a man who is afraid and faint of heart?
Let him go and return to his home, so that he not melt the
hearts of his brothers as his own.
Righteous Warriors Only
The Talmud cites a disagreement between two sages as to the
definition of a man who is afraid and faint of heart.
According to Rabbi Akiva, the meaning is as the simple
reading of the verse implies: one who cannot stand firm in
the joint ranks in battle and see a drawn sword. Rabbi
Yossi of Galilee maintains that the verse is referring to
one who fears because of his sins. Thus,
adds Rabbi Yossi, the Torah added him on to those who
return on account of a [new] home, vineyard or wifeto
cover up for he who returns because of his sins.
Rabbi Yossis concluding words also explain the reasoning
behind his interpretation. Rabbi Yossi is bothered by the
fact that the announcement calling for the fainthearted to
go home comes after those regarding a new home, vineyard
or wife. Earlier, we read how the priest addressed the troops,
enjoining them, let not your hearts soften, fear not,
and do not panic nor break ranks before them; this would
seem the natural place to announce that those who fear battle
should go home. Why precede its mention with three completely
unrelated subjects? Furthermore, a coward in the ranks presents
a far greater problem than the possibility that a solider
might fail to return to inaugurate his home, redeem his vineyard
or marry his betrothed: the former places many lives, and
perhaps the very outcome of the battle, in jeopardy, while
the latter only concerns the dimensions of an individual tragedy.
For both these reasons, one would expect that the first announcement
would concern those who are afraid and faint of heart,
followed then by the other announcements.
This leads Rabbi Yossi to conclude that the meaning of the
verse is other than what a simple reading would imply, namely,
that the priests assurance that G-d goes with
you, to fight for you with your enemies, to deliver you
surely suffices to allay the fears of any anxious soldierexcept
for the soldier who fears that he is undeserving of divine
protection because of his sins. This is why the announcement
regarding the fearful is appended to those regarding a new
home, etc.to cover-up for those who depart because of
Rabbi Akiva, however, does not accept Rabbi Yossis
interpretation. Despite the said difficulties, he maintains
that the verse should be understood in its most literal senseas
regarding one who fears the roar of battle and the sight of
a drawn swordand rejects the notion that it might be
addressed to one who fears because of his sins.
Rabbi Akivas reasoning can be understood in light of
a remarkable law cited in the Talmudic tractate of Kiddushin,
which deals with the laws of marriage. One who marries
a woman on the condition that he is a perfectly righteous
man, rules the Talmud, the marriage may be valid
even if he is utterly wicked, since it is possible that he
had a thought of teshuvah in his mind.
Such is the power of teshuvah (repentance; lit., return).
Teshuvah is the ultimate transformation that a human
being can undergothe transformation from a state of
rebellion against G-d and disconnection from ones source
of life and the very purpose of ones existence, to a
state of unblemished perfection and union with G-d. Teshuvah
consists of three basic elements: a) the cessation of sin;
b) the acknowledgment that one has done wrong; and c) the
resolve never to repeat it. All three stages, however, are
present in a single dynamic: regret. Thus teshuvah
can be achieved instantaneouslyin a single moment of
Rabbi Akiva, who was known for his tendency to focus on what
is positive and meritorious in the soul of man, insists that there is no such thing
as one who fears because of his sins, thus lacking
the protection that G-d confers on an army that does battle
with the enemies of His people. For if he fears because of
his sins, this means that he recognizes that he has done wrong
and regrets his deed. Hence, he is no longer a sinner, but
a perfectly righteous individual!
Based on the Rebbes talks, Shabbat Parshat Shoftim 5727 (1967) and 5729 (1969)
In every relationship, there are times when the male
or giving partner takes the initiative, and times when the
female or receiving partner is the one to first
express her feelings and thereby stimulate the feelings of
The question of who takes the initiative has a profound effect
on the nature of the relationship. For though the end result
is that both of them express their love for each other, the
one who takes the initiative determines the nature of the
others response. When initiated by the giving partner,
the response stimulated in the recipient will likewise be
a masculine response; when initiated by the recipient,
the givers response will also be of a feminine
nature, for it will be influenced and shaped by the source
of its arousal.
In Song of Songs, which explores the relationship between
G-d and Israel through the metaphor of the love between a
bride and her groom, we find expressions of both male-initiated
and female-initiated love. In one verse, the narratress proclaims,
My beloved is to me, and I am to him.
In another, she says, I am to my beloved, and my beloved
is to me.
There are times when the Almighty showers us with love and
kindness, arousing in us a response in kind (My beloved
is to me, and I am to him). But there are also times
in which we take the initiative, expressing our love and devotion
to Him despite His apparent distance from us, thereby arousing
in Him His love for us (I am to my beloved, and my beloved
is to me).
It may be argued that the divinely-initiated love produces
a higher and loftier love than that which is initiated by
ourselves. When the initial arousal comes from G-d, it is
a show of love that is as infinite and sublime as its source,
arousing in us feelings that we could never have produced
ourselves. Nevertheless, such a love cannot be said to be
truly our own. We have been overwhelmed by something that
is infinitely greater than ourselves, and our own response
is likewise larger than life, bearing little relation
to who and what we are in our natural state.
On the other hand, the love we generate from ourselves may
be less magnificent and glorious, but it is a deeper and truer
love. It is an integral lovea love that comes from within
and expresses our deepest yearnings. And when we awaken such
a love in ourselves, G-d responds in kind, showing us an integral,
intimate lovea love that embraces us as we are, rather
than transporting us to sublime yet alien peaks of spirituality
The month of Elul is a month in which the love between the
divine Groom and His bride Israel is at its height. This is
alluded to by the fact that, in Hebrew, the first letters
of the verse I am to my beloved and my beloved is to
me (ani ledodi vdodi li) spell the word
It is significant that the acronym for Elul comes from the
verse that describes a love that is initiated by the bride,
rather than the verse (My beloved is to me, and I am
to him) in which the initial show of love comes from
the groom. For despite its designation as a time for special
closeness between G-d and man, Elul is a most ordinary
month, conspicuously devoid of festivals and holy days (as
opposed to the festival-rich month of Tishrei that follows
it). Elul is not a time in which we are lifted up
from our daily routine to the more spiritual atmosphere of
a festival day; rather, it is a time in which we remain in
our natural state as material beings inhabiting a material
For the month of Elul, whose astral sign is the sign of betulah
(virgin), is the month of the bride. Elul is a
time when the initiative comes from our side of the relationship,
and the divine response to our love is one that relates to
us as finite, material beings and embraces our natural self
Based on the Rebbes talks on Av 27, 5750 (August
and on numerous other occasions
The Military Method
When Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch was in Petersburg to attend the Rabbinical
Convention of 1843, he received a special permit from the
Russian Minister of War to address the Jewish soldiers serving
at the military installation in nearby Kronstadt.
When the Rebbe arrived, he was greeted by the waiting soldiers,
who said to him: Rebbe! Weve been toiling all
morning to prepare for your coming, polishing our buttons
in your honor. Now its your turn to toil: polish our
souls, which have been dulled and coarsened by our many years
of disconnection from Yiddishkeit.
Following his address, in which he encouraged their heroic
efforts to cling to their faith, the Rebbe said: You
polished your buttons with sand and water. The soul, too,
is polished with sand and water: with the holy letters of
Tehillim (Psalms) recited with a generous infusion
One of the soldiers spoke up: But Rebbe, battles are
won with joy, not tears.
So speaks a soldier! said the Rebbe, with obvious
satisfaction. Yes, youre right. A soldier enters
the fray of battle to the tune of a joyous march, not with
tears. It is by the power of his joy that he is victorious
even in the most dangerous and challenging endeavors.
Told by the Rebbe, Simchat Torah, 5727 (1966)
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. See Leviticus 19:24.
. Talmud, Sotah 44a; Rashi on Deuteronomy 20:8.
. Talmud, Kiddushin 49b.
. See stories related in the Talmud, Avodah Zarah
10b, 17a and 18a.
. See Rashi on Talmud, Sanhedrin 110b (section beginning
. It is noteworthy that the Torah section of Shoftim
(Deuteronomy 16-21, which includes the above cited verses)
is always read on the first Shabbat in Elul, the month of
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. IX, pp. 121-129.
. See The King in the Field, WIR, vol. VIII,
. Sefer HaSichot 5750, vol. II, pp. 631-633.
. 1789-1866. Rabbi Menachem Mendel, also known
as the Tzemach Tzedek after his books by that
name, was the third leader of Chabad Chassidism.
. This was in the days of Czar Nikolai I, who had
decreed that six- and seven-year-old Jewish children be
conscripted into the Russian Army for a period of twenty-five
years and be indoctrinated into Christianity, G-d forbid.
The fact that the Rebbe was granted permission to address
the Jewish soldiers at Kronstadt was nothing less than a
miracle, since the primary purpose of their conscription
was to tear them away from the faith of their fathers.