Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Fight or Flight


Operation Inspiration

I generally do not follow the news. I’m not on WhatsApp groups to get the latest updates from Israel or Jewish communities and I don’t search for exciting events or the latest scoop. I am a firm believer that what I need to hear will come my way and the rest is just noise. That may sound a bit harsh, but I don’t mean to say that if something doesn’t pertain to my immediate family I don’t care. Rather, I know that if I’m supposed to do something about the situation, whether spiritually, physically, or financially, Hashem will find a way to tell me about it. If He didn’t, then He isn’t looking for my participation.

Of course, when war is looming on the horizon and hundreds of thousands of our fellow Jews, and many more human beings, are in crisis, it behooves all of us to feel for them and see what we can do for them. Indeed, several different fundraisers came my way, and I donated. We’ve said Tehillim at shul and thought about our brothers and sisters whose lives are at risk.

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Other than that, I’ve seen and heard bits and pieces of news which primarily fall into three buckets. The first is the one in which all the news folk are just trying to promote their own careers and draw in audiences with their emotional hyperbole and their apocalyptic prognostication about what will or won’t happen. That bucket I toss to the curb right away because it’s rubbish.

Then there are two buckets worth discussing. One consists of the comments discussing the bravery and patriotism of the Ukrainians willing to take up arms to defend their country. This bucket holds many accolades of the Ukrainian president who refused to be evacuated and has sought assistance in fighting back the Russian bear. The fact that he is Jewish, yet is still receiving praise, is quite unique in my experience.

The second bucket is the one talking about what sympathetic people were doing. From donating money and protesting, to prayers and vigils, they showed they cared about the victims in this conflict. It seems many Ukrainians who live in America are fervently religious and they held church services to pray as a merit for their relatives back home, much as we would do and have done. It struck me that essentially, people’s reaction to danger is, as science phrases it, literally, “fight or flight.”

One the one hand, people assess the situations and determine what they need to do in order to resist whatever external force is involved. They choose to fight, and use all their power to defend their land or the principles they believe in. The idea of heroes going down with guns blazing is a romantic notion, thought of as extremely noble, but in reality, it’s quite a foolhardy option. Dying for your honor is not as smart as living for your principles. Yes, you must defend yourselves, but there may come a time when retreat is called for.

Yes, the flip side of fight is “flight,” running away so as to live to fight another day. If a martyr gives his life for a cause, he’s still dead and that cause has one less person to fight for it. While it may seem cowardly, the embarrassment of looking afraid is better than the alternative.

As Jews, though, I think we can look at these options differently. Instead of choosing one or the other, I think we ought to combine them. To explain what I mean, let’s give the word “flight” another definition. Instead of meaning, “running away in terror,” let’s define it as “rising above the battles.”

So now, when faced with enemies and war, we can choose both “fight” AND “flight,” doubling our chances of success. How so?

Well, when Yaakov Avinu had to meet Esav, he sent gifts in order to appease him. That may not apply here, unless the gift is the deed to a couple hundred thousand square miles of land.

Then Yaakov prepared to battle Esav, and, just as importantly, maybe more so, he also davened to Hashem. Yaakov’s version of “flight,” therefore, was rising above the physical combat and clinging to a higher power. He knew that the battle was not his to win without Hashem’s intervention. He therefore prayed and soared to the Heavens, far above the physical battlefield.

If one trusts in his own strength, cunning, or power, Hashem lets him try to overcome his enemies with them. Perhaps it will work, but more than likely it will fail. Hashem is waiting for us to realize that the most honorable way to battle our enemies is to ask Hashem to fight for us and strengthen us to do our part. It’s not embarrassing to acknowledge that you are unable to defeat your enemies alone. It is embarrassing not to understand to Whom true victory belongs.

We daven that the bombings stop and the fighting not lead to many people being lost. However. as Torah Jews who understand how the world really works, in our own lives we ought to choose both fight and flight, by bravely facing our foes, after raising our voices and hands to Hashem, asking Him to lift us up and save us from harm.

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