In these troubling times, many are overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. In the excerpt from Middot HaRe’iyah which I have translated below, Rav Kook speaks about overcoming our fears. Yes, we should be cautious. But not anxious or fearful! Fear itself makes us stumble and fall.
The key, Rav Kook wrote, is cognitive: we must raise our sights to see the big picture. We need to recognize how everything in the world, even the dangerous and disturbing, has its place. By broadening our perspective, we gain the optimism and confidence we need to overcome the crisis and avoid the pitfalls of fear.
Rav Kook concludes with a crucial point: when we study Torah, perform mitzvot and help others, we feel the special joy experienced when one is engaged in holy matters. This joy gives us ometz-kodesh, the “fortitude of holiness” and resilience that we need to persevere in challenging times.
Thus, when the distraught crowds assembled in Jerusalem broke out in tears and weeping, Ezra encouraged them, “Do not be sad, for the joy of God is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).
Our source of strength is joy and ometz-kodesh!
“הַפְּחָדִים הֵם פְּתיּוּת גְּמוּרָה. אֵין לָאָדָם לִפְחֹד כְּלָל כִּי-אִם לְהִזָּהֵר. יוֹתֵר שֶׁהוּא פּוֹחֵד הוּא נוֹפֵל, וּכְשֶׁהוּא מִתְפַּחֵד, מֵעֶצֶם הַפַּחַד בָּא לוֹ הַמִּכְשׁוֹל.”
Fears are complete foolishness. A person should not be afraid at all, just careful. The more we are afraid, the more we fall. When we are frightened, the fear itself causes us to stumble.
Therefore it is important to bolster our recognition that there is nothing to be afraid of. All images of fear are merely scattered colors of the big picture that needs to be completed. When the picture is complete, the [isolated images] will merge together and elicit a robust, tremendous trust (bitachon) that fills the soul with resolve and courage. Even the evil spirits with all of their shadow-terrors are transformed into supportive forces, gladdening and broadening the mind. Their evil and damaging quality is completely nullified, while their life-giving energy is transformed into a force that encourages us with the fortitude of holiness.
“They will obtain gladness and joy” (Isa. 35:10). “The joy of God is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).
Illustration image: ‘The first ascent of the Matterhorn’ (Gustave Doré, 1865)