Is it Better to be Loved or Feared? A Reflection on the Washington Rally

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According to a new Reuters poll, a majority of Americans now back a ceasefire in the war Israel is fighting again Hamas.  Disturbingly, nearly 70 percent of Americans said the Israeli government should pursue a ceasefire, including three quarters of Democrats and half of Republicans.  Predictably, as time passes and Palestinian propaganda continues to be promoted, support for Israel has begun to wane.


While the calls for a ceasefire ring, rockets continue to rain down on innocent Israelis, and not in areas that are “in dispute,” but in central Israel and “undisputed” cities like Tel Aviv.  This is not the first time and sadly sure not the last that the world will hold Israel to a double standard and deny Israel the most basic right, the right to take the necessary steps to defend its citizens. 


While modern Israel’s founding fathers, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin disagreed on much, they both understood that Israel cannot afford to bend itself to conform to the will of the nations of the world.  Ben-Gurion once said, "What matters is not what the goyim say, but what the Jews do." Describing the lessons of the Holocaust, Begin said, “When a Jew anywhere in the world is threatened or under attack, do all in your power to come to his aid. Never pause to wonder what the world will think or say. The world will never pity slaughtered Jews. The world may not necessarily like the fighting Jew, but the world will have to take account of him.”


Last week, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was in New York when he offered a similar sentiment: "A huge wave of antisemitism is sweeping the United States and the world. It's incomprehensible: Hamas massacres, murders, rapes, loots, and who is blamed? Jews. A combination of radical Islam flooded with hatred and a progressive left flooded with stupidity. Especially on campuses. My interim conclusion: More than all the words, arguments, pictures and interviews, one thing is needed: defeat Hamas. We will not convince antisemites, but our victory is clear and clear, and the elimination of our enemy will put fear in the hearts of our enemies. We don't need to be loved. Just let them be afraid of us. Forever. At all costs. There is no choice."


Ben-Gurion, Begin, and Bennett were not the first to weigh in on whether it is better to be loved or feared. Five hundred years ago, philosopher and historian Niccolo Machiavelli concluded, “Whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? One should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved.”


The question – is it better to be loved or feared – is indeed an age-old question, one contemplated and debated by leaders, philosophers, and mob bosses alike.  As Israel relentlessly decimates Hamas and fearlessly pushes back at Hezbollah, it is instilling fear in the hearts of enemies and planting it in the mind of friends.  Jews around the world are pushing back at antisemites, not with violence or physical weapons but by shining a light and holding accountable those that tear down posters of hostages or tolerate hate on their campuses. Publicizing the faces of antisemites and withdrawing financial support of universities are powerful weapons and will instill fear in those who don’t want to suffer those consequences.  Legislation must be passed and prosecutions must be pursued against those who spread hate and incite violence against the Jewish community.  We can and should continue to make the case for Israel, spread the truth of the beauty the one and only Jewish state and its positive impact on the world.  The likelihood is that we will never be loved; if we want to secure our own future, let us be feared. 


The Torah (Devarim 28:10) tells us,וְרָאוּ֙ כל־עַמֵּ֣י הָאָ֔רֶץ כִּ֛י שֵׁ֥ם ה׳ נִקְרָ֣א עָלֶ֑יךָ וְיָֽרְא֖וּ מִמֶּֽךָּ  , “And all the peoples of the earth shall see that Hashem’s name is proclaimed over you, and they shall stand in fear of you.”  Commenting on these words, the Talmud (Berachos 6a) explains that this pasuk is referring to Tefillin Sheberosh, the Tefillin on the head.  Inspired by this comment, before the Six Day War in June 1967, the Lubavitcher Rebbe announced “Mivtza Tefillin” — the “Tefillin Campaign” — and that every effort should be made to put on Tefillin with as many Jews as possible. Once again today, during Israel’s current war we are seeing an enormous spiritual awakening including “secular” soldiers seeking to wear Tefillin. 


If you look more closely you will notice that the Talmud doesn’t say “Tefillin al harosh,” Tefillin worn “on the head,” but Tefillin sheberosh, in the head.  I wear Tefillin on my head, what are Tefillin “in” the head?  The story is told that the Vilna Gaon was once staying at an inn when a stranger came in and attacked the Jewish owner who was wearing Tefillin and praying.  The Gaon heard and opened the door to his room where he was davening in Tefillin.  When the attacker saw the Vilna Gaon, he was overwhelmed with fear and fled.  When the owner asked what happened, the Gaon explained that our rabbis taught when someone sees the head Tefillin that they will fear you.  The owner responded, “But I was also wearing Tefillin on my head and that didn’t stop him from attacking me?”  The Gaon explained, “You are wearing your Tefillin on your head, I am wearing my Tefillin in my head.  I don’t just place the leather box on top of my head, I place its messages, values and ideas inside my head.”  Said the Gaon, when we believe, live and practice what Hashem wants from us, the nations of the world will fear us. 


Fear or love?  Let our enemies fear how much we love, how much we love Hashem and how much we love each other. 


This week, BRS proudly brought a large delegation to Washington, D.C. to stand with at the largest rally for Israel in history.  For the overwhelming majority of attendees, taking a day off of work and traveling to the nation’s capital was inconvenient, time-consuming, and expensive.  And yet, almost 300,000 did it.  We stood together to rally, demand the hostages be brought home, and support elected leaders who support Israel.  But we also did so to sing, daven, dance and stand with an enormous array of our brothers and sisters, incredibly diverse but united by a shared concern about our people and committed to our homeland. Participating with the spectrum of the Jewish people from great Roshei Yeshiva like Rav Schachter, Rav Willig, Rav Lopiansky, and others, and with Rabbonim from Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim and Chabad, to Jews of all backgrounds, beliefs, and practices was a demonstration of unity to Hashem and to ourselves and of steadfast resolve to our enemies local and abroad. 


While most of the attendees were eager to post, stream, and stay connected, Hashem had other plans.  The dense gathering overwhelmed the local towers leaving almost all with no service or connection.  While frustrating and challenging, it quickly became clear it was a beracha from Above.  It felt like Hashem was looking down and saying, “My sweet kinderlach, you have never stood together in these numbers before.  Look around at your brothers and sisters, some like you and many very different.  Savor this moment, be fully present, disconnect from the world and connect with those you are standing right next to.” 


The highlight of the rally for me was when Ishay Ribo took the stage.  While I enjoy his singing and am regularly moved by his songs, it was what he said, not sang, that transformed the gathering into a religious experience for me.  Ribo led more than a quarter of a million Jews in a perek of Tehillim and turned to the mass gathering imploring everyone to be mekabeil ol malchus shamayim with him by reciting Shema together. 


People were excited when Ribo sold out Madison Square Garden earlier this year. This week, he touched the hearts, prayed, sang and led ten times that number in making a Kiddush Hashem.


While many American Jews didn’t attend for various reasons, the nearly 300,000 Jews gathered in D.C. this week were filled with love - Love for each other, love for our brothers and sisters in Israel, love for the hostages, love for the IDF and love for Hashem. 


Hamas, Hezbollah and antisemites should be very afraid.  Fear the power of our love, for it will always defeat them and whatever they plan.