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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Mordechai Lipskier

You afraid?


In 1937 there was a Population Census in the Soviet Union. One of the mandatory fields was “Religion,” i.e., do you believe in G-d. Out of fear of losing their jobs or worse, many Jews answered that they weren’t religious. The Rebbe’s father, Reb Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, whose yuhrtzeit is today, the 20th of Av, was a prominent rabbi in the Ukrainian city of Yekatrinoslav. When he became aware of what people were doing, he gave passionate sermons boldly encouraging Jews to answer "yes", and explained that doing otherwise is literally avoda zara. As a result of his words, many Jews did indeed change their answer—proclaiming to being religious. There was even a Jew with a prominent government position whose wife had already filled out the Census claiming to not be religious, but after hearing Reb Levik’s words, he went down to the Census Bureau and changed the answer on his form. In 1939, Reb Levik was arrested for his activities on behalf of Soviet Jewry. During one of the interrogations, he was asked about these sermons—which had been relayed to the authorities by their spies in shul. “Did you not promote religious beliefs from your pulpit?!” they accused. Reb Levik replied: I merely reminded my people that the government doesn’t want lies, everyone must answer what they truly believe. These Jews believe in G-d.[1]

How many decisions do we make out of fear? Our initial response is likely, “Very few, I’m not a fearful person.” Let’s rethink this. Do we ever go against our beliefs and spend money on simchos out of the fear of losing a certain social status? Do we hold back on embracing particular mitzvos, like dressing modestly, out of fear of being labeled a neb, or old-fashioned? Do we compromise our davening or shiurim because we’re afraid it will affect our parnasah? Although these aren’t fears in the typical sense, they are still no less inhibiting. In the Soviet Union, Jews were afraid of the goy outside on the street, today we’re afraid of the “goy” within. But just like in those days, our fears are only external and circumstantial; they’re not what we truly believe. From time to time, it’s good to give ourselves a passionate and bold sermon, reminding ourselves of what we truly believe. Have no fear! We must trust ourselves to act on our beliefs, and even revisit past, fear-based decisions and correct them. Just as they did 84 years ago. Gut Shabbos, Rabbi Lipskier [1] Toldos Levi Yitzchak vol 1 pg. 182, and vol 2 pg.277

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