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לימוד תורה

Civil courage - You shall not be afraid

The Parasha in our everyday life - Parashat Bo 5782

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - Rosh Yeshivat Hesder 'Meir Harel' Modi'in

In light of the events that have stirred the public in recent weeks we have found ourselves dealing with issues that illustrate the indispensability of heroism and civic courage, in personal life and in public life.

Heroism and courage are required on the battlefield, yet no less are they required in daily life. For some reason it seems to many that heroism and courage are concepts that belong to war and a battlefield against an enemy, because there are life endangering situations and the need to overcome fear; therefore, to make their heroism and bravery, especially if as a result they reached a resolution and the victory.

But in everyday life, heroism and civic courage are required no less. Facing injustice, moral distortion, misjudgment, harassment of weakened and underprivileged people by those in power can be dangerous. Sometimes it only endangers the status and good name (shaming), and sometimes it also endangers the workplace, and it can even endanger property or cause physical harm to the person or his family. In such a situation, heroism and civic courage are required; to stand up without fear, to tell the truth, and even to take the necessary preventive actions, despite the danger. And because of brave public figures and ordinary people, the harm to the weak has been prevented, or aided in their rehabilitation!

However, unlike heroism and courage in military action, on the battlefield, in daily life in the field of civilian and public action, ribbons, medals and badges are not handed out.

In Judaism there is a reference to courage and heroism on the battlefield, in the prohibition of fear in war:

וּמֵאַחַר שֶׁיִּכָּנֵס בְּקִשְׁרֵי הַמִּלְחָמָה יִשָּׁעֵן עַל מִקְוֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמוֹשִׁיעוֹ בְּעֵת צָרָה ... וְיָשִׂים נַפְשׁוֹ בְּכַפּוֹ וְלֹא יִירָא וְלֹא יִפְחָד ... וְכָל הַמַּתְחִיל לַחְשֹׁב וּלְהַרְהֵר בַּמִּלְחָמָה וּמַבְהִיל עַצְמוֹ עוֹבֵר בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים כ, ג) "אַל יֵרַךְ לְבַבְכֶם אַל תִּירְאוּ וְאַל תַּחְפְּזוּ וְאַל תַּעַרְצוּ מִפְּנֵיהֶם".

"What man is there who is fearful and is faint-hearted"- Exactly so. This is one whose heart has no strength to withstand the strains of war. Now, once one becomes entangled with the perplexities of war, he should trust the Hope of Israel, and He will save him in times of trouble… Neither be afraid nor alarmed… Anyone who thinks about or contemplates (matters) during the battle and frightens himself violates a Negative Commandment, as it says, “do not be faint of heart, nor be alarmed, do not flee, and be not frightened before them” (Devarim 20:3)" (Rambam - Mishneh Torah Kings and Wars 7:15)

However, there is also a reference to civic courage, as it is said in the Dayanim:

לֹ֤א תָג֙וּרוּ֙ מִפְּנֵי־אִ֔ישׁ כִּ֥י הַמִּשְׁפָּ֖ט לֵאלֹקים ה֑וּא

"…Fear no man, for judgment is G-d’s…" (Devarim1:17)

Ye shall not fear any man.  לא תגורו: Ye shall not gather in (shall not restrain) your words before any man" (Rashi ibid).

שמא תאמר, מתירא אני מפלוני שמא יהרוג את בני או שמא ידליק את גדישי או שמא יקצץ את נטיעותי? תלמוד לומר: "לא תגורו מפני איש כי המשפט לאלהים הוא".

Meaning: Lest you say: I am afraid of that man. He may kill my son, or burn my stacks, or cut down my plants; it is, therefore, written "Do not fear any man." "for the judgment is G-d's." (Sifrei Devarim 17)

Therefore, the judges should have:

וּבִכְלַל אַנְשֵׁי חַיִל שֶׁיִּהְיֶה לָהֶן לֵב אַמִּיץ לְהַצִּיל עָשׁוּק מִיַּד עוֹשְׁקוֹ

"A brave heart to save the oppressed from the oppressor" (Mishneh Torah- The Sanhedrin and the Penalties within their Jurisdiction 7).

שיושב לפני רבו - ובא דין לפני רבו ולא לפניו וראה התלמיד זכות לעני וחובה לעשיר ורבו טועה בדין מניין שלא יחלוק כבוד לרבו וישתוק …

From where is it derived that a student who is sitting before his teacher and he sees a point of merit for a poor person or liability for a wealthy person, from where is it derived that he should not be silent? As it is stated: “You shall not be afraid before any man”; he should fear neither his teacher nor the wealthy litigant”. (Rashi on Sanhedrin 6b:13)

It turns out that this principle of ‘You shall not be afraid’ exists in general in the public arena, and not only in the legal world. In a famous protest proclamation published by the late Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook, Z’L. about preserving the integrity of the land, he wrote in the headline: ‘You shall not be afraid’ "לא תגורו"! Regarding the duty to stand up and tell the truth in public where others are afraid and silent.

From the heroism of Moshe Rabbeinu, we learned:

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן אֵין הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַשְׁרֶה שְׁכִינָתוֹ אֶלָּא עַל גִּבּוֹר וְעָשִׁיר וְחָכָם וְעָנָיו וְכוּלָּן מִמֹּשֶׁה גִּבּוֹר דִּכְתִיב וַיִּפְרֹשׂ אֶת הָאֹהֶל עַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן …

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: The Holy One, Blessed be He, rests His Divine Presence only upon one who is mighty, and wealthy, and wise, and humble. And all of these qualities are derived from Moshe. He was mighty, as it is written: “And he spread the tent over the Tabernacle” (Nedarim 38a)

It is a matter of civil heroism and not just heroism in battle. From him they learned that the judges should have heroism and courage so as not to be afraid to rule according to the truth even in front of a difficult judge.

"וְאַתָּ֣ה תֶחֱזֶ֣ה מִכׇּל־הָ֠עָ֠ם אַנְשֵׁי־חַ֜יִל וגו'. לפי שאמרו חז"ל: "אין הקב"ה משרה שכינתו כי אם על גבור, חכם, עשיר, ועניו, וכולם ממשה", על כן הזכיר כאן כל ארבעה תוארים אלו כי הדיין צריך לכולם. וכו'. וכל המעלות שבך צריכין להיות גם בדיינים. אנשי חיל, המה גבורי כח אשר ככוחם אז כן עתה לשבר זרועות רמות האומרים ידינו רמה כי כל דיין תש כח מסתמא הוא עובר ב'לא תגור ממנו”

“You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men…Our Sages said: The Holy One Blessed Be He causes His Shechinah to come to rest only upon one who is wise, strong, wealthy and humble; Moshe serving as the prototype for all of these criteria, therefore all four of these titles are mentioned, as judges need them all... And all the virtues in you should also be in them... capable men… (Kli Yakar Shmot 18:21).  

As judges, it is the duty of public figures to conduct themselves with heroism and civic courage when an explosive issue is at their doorstep, and not to be afraid!

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