Fear, Anxiety and President Trump

Dovid Vigler, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Anxiety & Fear / Essays 2018 / Leadership

As the 45th President of this great nation has completed his first year in office this month, tensions are high. Most citizens are either euphoric or fearful; few remain ambivalent.

Fear, anxiety and the Jewish approach to it, is a central theme in Jewish thought and a foundational principle of my faith too.

Though the Torah never shares with us any unnecessary information, when Moshe confronts two quarreling Jews in the story leading up to the Great Exodus, we’re given an unusual glimpse into his inner emotions. When one of them had threatened to slander him to Pharaoh, the Torah finds it necessary that we know that Moshe became fearful. Subsequently, Pharaoh, ordered his execution.

Rarely do we ever learn about the inner emotions of the biblical characters. Why would we need to know this about Moshe? It’s not exactly flattering.

The question is exacerbated when we recall that fear is actually biblically prohibited in certain cases. When Jewish soldiers go out to war, there is a Biblical prohibition against their being afraid!

Indeed, in his first inaugural address as President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt emphatically declared that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

What’s the harm in being afraid?

Chabad philosophy explains the toxicity of fear:

Heaven is a mirror reflection of earth: How we treat G-d is exactly how He treats us: When we are able to trust blindly in Almighty G-d, without calculating whether He is great enough, strong enough or whatever enough to solve our problem, then He reciprocates in kind, granting us our desired outcome, without calculating whether we deserve it or not!

When we don’t calculate, neither does He!

When we are magnanimous towards G-d, then He is kind and generous to us too. When we are critical and suspicious of G-d, then He reacts to us in kind.

This principle is not unique to Jewish thought. A basic law of physics states that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. Some call this karma, others Divine justice. Chassidim simply say that what happens to us is nothing more and nothing less, than the result of our own doing.

(Incidentally, this principle beautifully explains a seemingly worrisome trait of Heavenly Justice. Pirkei Avos warns us to brace ourselves for our certain fate, when we will have to face first our verdict and then our testimony, in the Heavenly Court. Though verdicts only precede testimony in totalitarian dictatorships, here the Mishna explicitly precedes verdict to testimony, when we will be judged in Heaven on our life’s achievements!

Chassidus clarifies to us that indeed, our verdict has already been predetermined even before the first testimony is heard. This is because the nature of the judgment depends on how we judged others: A life of patience and compassion will inevitably be treated by the Heavenly court in kind; one of short tempers and impulsiveness will find little patience in Heaven too. Thus, it’s not the verdict itself, but the nature of our verdict that has already been determined by the time we reach the Heavenly Court. This is in fulfillment of the doctrine of “reflective justice” employed by G-d Almighty)

Fear is the antithesis of trust. Where there is anxiety, there is weak faith.

Fear over future events is born of a lack of trust in G-d’s ability to care for us and provide for our needs. Being afraid of a new political administration implies that it has true power over us and is thus a rejection of G-d’s omnipotent governance.

When we trust in G-d, He delivers, when we fear, we repel his involvement.

In the words of the Tzemach Tzedek: “Think good and it’ll be good.”  When we trust in G-d unconditionally, this attitude in and of itself, regardless of previous misdeeds, suffices to elicit the favorable outcome we hope for.

When going out to war, soldiers yearn for victory. Trust in G-d will enable this, fear will halt it. When two sides battle, whichever will be able to truly engage the Kabbalistic secret of trust, to the point of zero anxiety, will ultimately emerge the victor. But be careful, this means cleared of all anxiety. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

By revealing to us the seemingly unnecessary insight into Moses’ fear, the Torah is sharing with us a deep secret of the universe: The reason why the slander actually reached Pharaoh and why he acted to attempt to have Moses executed, was only because Moses was fearful. Had he had the courage to trust in G-d despite the dire prospects, the trust itself would have initiated a favorable response from G-d and Pharaoh would never have heard the slander nor reacted to it.

When I first learned of this principle, I was naturally skeptical. Inspired by a story of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin who had trust in G-d that he would acquire a gold watch and received it within days, I decided to put it to a test. I needed a laptop and had no way of purchasing one. Armed with nothing more than my faith, I meditated to the point of perfect tranquility. There was no anxiety nor worry, I whole heartedly trusted that G-d would provide.

When nothing appeared after a day, I approached my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Faitel Levin and told him that since I was seeking a used laptop, if anyone offered him one, he should have me in mind. A long shot, but I knew that I needed to plant a seed. After all, G-d helps those who help themselves!

A mere two days later, Rabbi Levin called me over to him in the Melbourne Semicha Program and handed me a laptop. Inexplicably, a member of his Shul had asked him the night before whether he knew anyone who could use a laptop. And I smiled, knowing that with this proven wisdom, my life would never be the same again!

This truth has been one of the guiding principles through my decade on Shlichus thus far. During the peak of the Great Recession, on December 10, 2009, my accountant told me that we were ten thousand dollars short of covering our budget for the year. Overcoming my natural inclination to panic, I closed my eyes and meditated upon the truth of ‘reflective justice’. I reached a state of serenity and was actually surprised to see how I was free of any trace of anxiety. I continued my work as if I had all the funds that I needed, trusting fully that G-d would never let me down, as a parent would never neglect their infant.

I remember it like yesterday: On December 20 I was laying tefillin with a fellow Jew in his office. As soon as I left, I noticed a few missed calls and messages from another fellow Jew. “Rabbi, please call me right away, Thx. Michael”. Upon calling him, he asked if I could come right over as he needed to see me.

When I walked into his office, a short while later, he asked me to sit and handed me two envelopes. “Open them, rabbi, please”. I was shocked to discover two checks for five thousand dollars each! “Why? How did you know!” I asked him. He simply explained that he had done earned more than expected that year and was inspired to donate more than usual to the Chabad House, in gratitude to G-d. Why two envelopes? I’ll never know. But Michael is a still an active member of our Chabad House today.

Whether you’re fearful of the doctor’s office calling, a business outcome, the bank, or a family member, let the fear of Moses inspire you towards the secret of trust. Those who trust in G-d completely will experience goodness, those who take matters into their own hands, will experience just that and have to deal with it a la carte.

The Holocaust, you ask? The saintly Baal Shem Tov reveals to us that sometimes, when G-d has decided to inflict a certain decree, He removes from those involved the ability to trust completely and fear abounds. Thus precluding ability to activate the Kabbalistic secret of trust and ensure a positive outcome. Deep, I know, but true nevertheless.

We thus have a completely fresh perspective on FDR’s powerful words in his inaugural address. The danger in fear is indeed the fear itself. The presence of fear, in and of itself, causes G-d to reciprocate the same to us and prevents His benevolence from flowing down to us as we desire.

In this highly polarized and tumultuous political time, let us resolve to embolden our faith and deepen our trust in the Creator of all. Let us fear nothing but fear itself. We will be doing ourselves, our loved ones and this great nation, the greatest gift of all!

Chabad Chassidic Sources:

Likkutei Sichos- Chelek 36, Shmos 2

Likutei Sichos Chelek 26, Beshalach 2, pg. 95-103

Likutei Sichos Cheleck 18, Balak 4, pg 293-300

Tanya, Igeres Hakodesh Epistle 11- Lehaskilcha Binah

Hayom Yom: Interpretation of “Dah ma lemaalah mimach