My children spent the day recently on the Gaza border giving out popsicles to the soldiers going into battle. Of course, to cover all the religious bases, and because we are a Chabad family, they also put on tefillin with the soldiers.
This was their idea completely. They rented a car, bought the popsicles, and off they went. I’m very proud of them for what they did. Not just because they care about soldiers who are risking their lives for Israel, although that’s wonderful. And not just because they demonstrated selflessness by caring about others who are taking such huge risks for their freedom, although that’s admirable.
The main reason I’m proud is because they weren’t afraid.
We currently have four children in Israel, thank God, and by next week it will be five. My children’s love for Israel, and their willingness to overcome fear in serving the soldiers of an embattled democracy, gives me pride as an American, as a father, and as a Jew.
As an American because this great country was the first to tell the tyrants of Europe, “We’re not afraid.” Every single signatory to the Declaration of Independence knew he could be hung from a gallows for his act. Kings used fear for millennia to rob their people of freedom. But the single greatest characteristic of the Founding Fathers was their contempt for fear. “Give me liberty or give me death,” said Patrick Henry in 1775.
We’re losing some of that in America today. We raise our kids to be afraid to walk home from school by themselves. And our freedom is farmed out to 2 percent of the population: the courageous and incomparable soldiers of the American military.
As a father, my kids make me proud because fear is the most limiting emotion there is, especially for children. Of course Hamas is dangerous. They are heartless murderers, as dangerous as they come, believing that murdering Jews is the highest virtue and will get them into heaven. False bravado in the face of Hamas means being contemptuous of life.
But in my book, “Face Your Fear,” I distinguish between fear and caution. Fear is a hysterical reaction to an imagined threat while caution is a calculated response to a real danger. There is a world of difference between them. Fear is imprisoning, locking your potential on the inside.
How many Jews are afraid to go to Israel right now? How many are watching this war from afar, grateful that there is an ocean separating them from the murderous rockets of Palestinian terrorists?
I don’t blame them, and I personally have never served in any military. So who am I to speak?
But to be afraid is to suffer. Fear constitutes the most intense form of human oppression. Unless the world vanquishes fear, it will lead to the rise of more terrorists like Hamas who will exploit fear in order to gain power. It is time for the Jewish people to fight back, to declare that we are not at the mercy of our fears.
For thousands of years to be a Jew meant being afraid. Afraid of anti-Semites, afraid of pogroms, afraid of the Church, afraid of Islam.
Israel was a collective statement on the part of an oppressed and persecuted people that they were tired of being afraid, that fear could no longer be a Jewish birthright.
In the modern world, there are tremendous forces bearing down upon us, from financial pressures to familial responsibilities to random acts of senseless violence. In a world that is increasingly empty of God and bereft of soul, we feel hollow on the inside, causing us to succumb to the pressures of the outside.
But the greatest guarantee of a mediocre life is a life lived in fear. Human greatness begins where submission to fear ends. You cannot become wealthy like Bill Gates without first casting aside the fear that you will fail. You cannot become a Winston Churchill if you are intimidated by the evil power you must fight. You cannot marry your soul mate unless you overcome your fear of commitment.
It is courage rather than caution that leads to real achievement and a fulfilling life. And while Hamas, Iran, Islamic Jihad and countless other Islamist radicals are dedicated to the annihilation of the Jewish people, this ancient people has decided that, as Franklin Roosevelt expressed it so eloquently in his State of the Union address January 1941, every human being is endowed with the right to be free of fear.
“Freedom from fear,” he said, “translated into world terms, means a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor, anywhere in the world.”
This is why Israel is fighting Hamas: to rid this genocidal group of terrorists of the rockets and arms they employ in their hell-bent desire to perpetrate a second holocaust.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of 30 books, including “Face Your Fear: Finding Courage in an Age of Caution.” His Twitter address is @RabbiShmuley.