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Never Fear Sin

08/17/2018 12:44:33 PM

Aug17

Before the Jewish army would go out to war, a priest was appointed to help lead the army -  to accompany, guide and inspire the soldiers.

One of his prep speeches went like this: "Hear, O Israel … Let your hearts not be faint … for the Lord, your God, is the One Who goes with you … What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, that he should not cause the heart of his brothers to melt, as his heart."

The Mishnah (Sotah 8:5) discusses the nature of this fear and faintheartedness which exempts a soldier from battle. According to Rabbi Yossi the Galilean it refers to one who is afraid of his sins, that they will cause him to fall in war.

The Talmud (Sotah 44b) clarifies Rabbi Yossi’s opinion, that even if one violated a minor sin (such as a prohibition by Rabbinic law) they too are exempt from battle.

This raises some questions:

  1. In all honesty, how many soldiers had truly never violated any sin, not even minor ones? Based upon this exemption, the army would be a very small one.
  2. What is the reason for this exemption? If a soldier had violated a very severe sin, which is punishable by death (either by the court or from the Hands of Heaven), it would make sense why the soldier would fear for his life. But a violation of a minor sin doesn’t bear any such punishment, so why would a soldier fear for his life?

Perhaps the answer to these questions is hinted to in the precise words of Rabbi Yossi. Rabbi Yossi doesn’t speak of one who is afraid of dying because of his sins; rather of one who is afraid of his sins.

In other words, the reason for this exemption is not due to fear of death (because why would someone who violated a minor sin fear death?) but rather due to fear of having sinned.

This idea leads us into a very important insight that is most relevant during this time of year.

Sinning is never a good thing. It’s wrong. But what happens when you (inevitably) sin? How do you feel and react? How should you feel and react?

A sin is a failure. You erred with bad judgement. You fell for the temptation. You couldn’t control your desires. You weren’t on top of your game.

Unfortunately, many people react to failure/sin with anger and fear. They’re angry at themselves (or even worse at others) for having let themselves down, and they’re fearful for having ruined their delusional self-image of perfection and shattered their attempt for a squeaky-clean reputation.

Why are we so afraid to fail, and when we fail? Why do we assume that when we fail we have caused so much wrong?

In our life’s journey, failure is inevitable. And failure is not a sentence towards eternal doom.

G-d does not expect most of us to be perfect. He created us as we are, filled with all sorts of distracting urges and impulses. But He certainly asks of us to try our hardest; to be deeply committed; and that we get up each time we fall. If we’re going to fall 1 step backwards, He expects us to take 2 steps forward.

So how should you react when you unfortunately sin? Don’t be angry (certainly not towards anyone else, but not even at yourself) and don’t be afraid. Fear is unhealthy and debilitating. It doesn’t allow you to bounce back and believe in yourself that you can be better. Instead, you should respond (not react) with honesty, remorse, and greater resolve for the future. Perhaps you can say this to yourself: “Oy, I mucked up. I could have done better, but I chose not to. I acknowledge that it was wrong. I am sorry for what I did. Yes, I am human, and am uniquely capable of making the wrong decisions. But I hope not to do this again in the future. To achieve that, I’m going to do the following: …”.

Ironically, when handled correctly, sin can empower you to become stronger and even more committed.

Back to our original questions: The exemption from battle wasn’t for people who sinned, but for people who suffered from fear from their sins. This fear paralyzes us, and during times of battle this can be fatal both for ourselves and for the soldiers around us.

We are now in the month of Elul, preparing for the New Year and High Holydays. It is recommended that we use these precious few weeks to take stock of our past year, and to remind ourselves of our good deeds and of our sins. And when we think of our sins, let’s be sure never to fear, but to stay positive and work hard to make bold resolutions that next year will be a better one than this past one.

Wed, December 19 2018 11 Tevet 5779