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Weekly Story: Unfounded Fear Holding Me Back

Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon

I heard the following two stories at a kiddish / farbrengen last Shabbos. The first one was said by Reb Yaakov Yisroel lilui nishmas his mother, Esther bas Reb Yaakov whose yahrzeit was this past Monday, the 22nd of Shevat.

As always your feedback is always appreciated, especially if someone knows the answer to the historical question I ask at the end.

It was the late 50’s and my two brothers-in-law, Reb Avrohom Kuperman and Reb Moshe Levertov came to our house in the Bronx for the first days of Sukkos. They were walking home from Shul and heard a honk. Turning to the street they saw a van and the driver called out to them gut Yom Tov 

Looking more intently they recognized him, he was an officer in the Shul and they were horrified that he was being mechallel Yom Tov. William! they said, Today is Yom Tov, why are you working?

I have no choice he replied, if I don’t take the truck, they will give it to someone else and how will I support my family. I am grateful that they made an exception and don’t make me work on Shabbos.

Coming to their in-laws’ house they mentioned this incident to their mother-in-law. The following week when William came to pick up the laundry, Esther said, Reb Zev (William), it isn’t appropriate for a Jew especially a Jew like you to work on Yom Tov. Hashem helped you until now, He will definitely continue to help you.”

A half-year passed and a few days before Pesach, William stopped by to pick up the laundry, “Esther,” he said with a broad smile, “This Yom Tov I am going to be able to enjoy, the way a Jew is supposed to. I will be in Shul and enjoy a meal with my family. “Yesterday I went into the office and requested that I don’t have to work and take out the truck on Yom Tov. I don’t have to tell you how nervous I was, [that they will say, it is your choice, but if you don’t take the truck we will give it to someone else. But to my pleasant surprise the boss said, ‘William, even if you don’t work on Yom Tov, you bring in more business than they do. Enjoy your holiday!’

“Esther, thank you for encouraging me.” 

Hearing this story I asked him if I can post it, as I immediately thought of two lessons.

A. Esther didn’t just think about it on the day it happened, it bothered her an entire week. Furthermore, when she spoke to him about it, she did it in an uplifting manner, showing she has confidence in him and that is what caused him to have the thought and then to have the courage to request a day off.

B. Quite often a person might truly want to do something but are afraid to, fearing that there will be repercussions. In this case, for years this man wished he can keep Yom Tov just as he kept Shabbos, but was afraid to ask, fearing that it may cost him his livelihood. So with a sad and heavy heart, he went to work.

But then when he had the encouragement and made the request, he saw that his fear was unfounded. 

That brings us to the title of this post IS UNFOUNDED FEAR HOLDING ME BACK or as other would say, Nothing To Fear, But Fear Itself. 

I then heard a second story which brings out this some thought but in a different manner. Yosef M. mentioned that he often davens mincha in a Manhattan office. One of the regulars there is a Jew from New Jersey. Recently, that Jew came over to him and said, I see that you are a Lubavitcher, I will share with you my story.

You know my office is around here, and every Friday, two young Lubavitcher boys came to my office. I daven every morning with a minyan and put on Tefillin every day, so I don’t need them. Furthermore, I grew up in a Litvishe house and environment and let us say, I didn’t appreciate the Lubavitch way. So I instructed my secretary to tell them that the boss is busy, hoping that after a while they will get the hint, ‘Don’t bother me!’

However, to my dismay and distress they didn’t give up and every week they determinedly knocked. This began irking me and I decided to show them that there is no need for them to pester a Ben Torah (a religious Jew who is knowledgeable in the Torah). So one week I told my secretary to allow them to enter my office, and I suspect that they felt a triumph. But before they could say anything, I said Young men, I see that you are students in a yeshiva, I will like to present you a question. I was positive that they would not be able to answer it, as my friends in Shul also couldn’t and then I will berate them for wasting their time and my time.

But to my surprise, one of the boys replied, “The Alter Rebbe discusses this in Tanya and explains….”

I was shocked, here was a young adult answering this question with ease while my friends in the Beis hamidrash couldn’t answer it.

I sheepishly said Sounds interesting and I want to think it over, and wished them a gut Shabbos.

The more I thought about the answer, the more I appreciated it and the following week I asked them if they can bring me a copy of the page in the Tanya that discusses it. I would like to learn it inside.

What should I tell you, after learning it inside, I decided that I will utilize five-ten minutes every Friday to learn some Tanya with these boys. As the weeks passed my perception about Chassidus and Lubavitch changed entirely. Instead of the negativity, I now had tremendous respect.

After some months I decided that being that I see tht Chassidus is true, I should accept upon myself some chassidishe customs, and I will begin with wearing Rabbeinu Tams’ teffilin.

Once I was going to buy a new pair of tefillin, I decided to buy the Lubavitcher size of four centimeters by four centimeters.

When I finally had it, I was in a quandary, how am I supposed to put them on without everyone in my Litvishe Shul noticing and making some snarky remarks.

I thought I figured it out, I would stay after davening and learn something for ten-fifteen minutes and by then everyone else would have left and I would put them on. No one would know, so I thought..

My charade went on for a few weeks. Then one day a group of my chèvre came to me after davening and said, “We have noticed for a while that you changed your attitude about chassidim and especially about Lubavitch. 

“Some of us also noticed that you began putting on Rabbeinu Tam’s tefillin, but you were trying to conceal it from us. Evidently, you were nervous about our reaction and if it will affect our feelings and relationship.

‘We applaud your convictions and we are here to support you. Here is some money for you to buy a bekeshe (kapote/ a chassidishe frock), and there is nothing for you to be concerned about our continued friendship, we are with you.”

The Rebbe repeatedly mentions in his sichos, this is the very first Halacha in shulchan Aruch, one should not be ashamed or embarrassed by the scoffers.

Quite often one would like to become more attentive to a certain mitzva or even a custom but is held back because of his fear of his chevra, what will my friends and associates say?

From the above stories we see, not only won’t they mock or ridicule you, but you will see they will be supportive in your change.

They are not the impediment; our unfounded fear is what is holding us back.

Two weeks ago I posted some points about Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah’s petira. In the biography of the Frierdiker Rebbe which I am working on, which by now is already over 700 pages, I noted the famous story of when the Frierdiker Rebbe was walking with the Munkatcher and the Munkatcher stopped, saying “I smell, the smell of Gan Eden.” To which the Frierdiker Rebbe replied, “My mother is standing behind the tree [as she wanted to see the Munkatcher].”

My question is; Does anyone know if this happened with the Minchas Elozer, who became Rebbe in 5673 (1913) or his father the Darkei Teshuva, who was Rebbe before him?

It is known that the Frierdiker Rebbe was very close to the Minchas Elozer, and in 5687 (1927) he went to the President of Czechoslovakia and pleaded that he intercedes with Russia to free the Rebbe. However, that doesn’t mean in itself that it happened with him and not with his father.

This weeks’ post is lilui nishmas Esther bas Reb Yaakov Muskal

Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numeros seforim on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He can be contacted at