R. Shlomo Freides’ daughter was married to a son of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, known as the Tzemach Tzedek. R’ Freides had fallen ill and was consumed with worry over his health.

It seems likely that this letter followed a response by Freides to the letter posted here, in which the Tzemach Tzedek wrote that the worry itself was hurting his health. Freides, it seems, responded that he is praying to G‑d to take away his fear and worry. The Tzemach Tzedek is not at all satisfied with this response, and makes the point that overcoming one’s fear is something that G‑d gives man to achieve.

It’s In Your Hands

Yes, it’s true that we have to ask G‑d for joy, as the Psalm goes, “Rejoice the soul of your servant!” Similarly, in our prayers, “Remove grief and moaning from amongst us.”

Nevertheless, there is also the panic that a person brings upon himself, and every person has the choice and the control to prevent himself from doing so.

There’s a clear proof ofThe Torah prohibits a person from panic and fear at a time of war. Proof that we are capable. this. The Torah prohibits a person from panic and fear at a time of war. [When an army went out to battle to defend the nation, the kohen would stand before them and say,

“Hear, O Israel! You are about to go to battle with your enemy. Don’t let your hearts be frail. Do not fear, nor panic,] nor be in dread of them.”

Both Maimonides1 and the Sefer Mitzvot Gedolot2 count this as one of the 613 commandments of the Torah.

This appears quite astonishing. What should a person then do if nevertheless his heart leaps and he panics when he sees the blood of battle? The Torah, after all, can only command you to do something that’s within your volition to choose to do or not do, as Maimonides writes in his Eight Chapters.3

But this is how it works: Every person’s soul is clothed within three external layers: Thought, speech and action. This is where the person’s conduct takes place, and it is in these three layers that a person can exercise his free will. Every person can consciously choose what to think about, speak about or do.

Which means that even if youEven if you are terrified in your heart, you can remove your thought, speech and action from that fear. are terrified in your heart, you can remove your thought, speech and action from that fear. The main thing is not to think about it or speak about it at all, but rather about the opposite, like I said earlier. This is what it says in Likutei Amarim (Tanya), chapter 14.

The Mechanics of Conquering Fear

So this is what it means when we are commanded, “Do not let your hearts weaken etc.”—don’t think about things that will cause fear. And that’s precisely what Maimonides writes as halachah, “Anyone who brings himself to panic and terror by thinking such thoughts… transgresses a prohibition.”

As soon as a person stops pondering these things, instantly the feeling of dread disappears. At the very least, the fear immediately fades, with no physical manifestation, as though it were sleeping. Then, within a few days, it will be completely gone, to the point that it won’t fall into the mind even as an involuntary thought.

That’s what the Torah is telling you when it says, “Don’t allow your hearts to weaken.”

How does it work? Why does fear disappear when thought is no longer engaged?

This is because all emotional responses are sustained by the awareness of the mind, which is the mental faculty called da’at. The Zohar calls da’at—awareness—“the key to six doors,” meaning that it can activate all six emotions. But this awareness only engages the emotions through active mental articulation, which serves as the intermediary between mind and emotion. Once you stop articulating these troubling thoughts in your mind, the mind is disengaged from the emotion. The emotion is no longer awake and is as though it never was.

An even greater concept is stated in the Talmud,4 that even natural human lust cannot be aroused without one consensually engaging his thought, and one is then culpable for his sinful desire, as Maimonides rules.5 This is also the implication of the Talmud in Berachot, 60a, that it is up to a person to fear or not to fear.

But the main way to remove your mind The main way to remove your mind from any troubling subject is by engaging it in other mattersfrom any troubling subject is by keeping it engaged in other matters. These could be even worldly matters that are necessities and bring happiness. And certainly in thoughts of Torah, for they rejoice the heart—each day, something particular for that day, with a fixed schedule for studying Torah—especially if you can do this with a partner.

(It could be in the revealed parts of Torah, for example in Orach Chayim, the laws of the morning blessings and reading the Shema, and prayer, and such. And in the inner Torah, in the hand-copied teachings that we have, etc.)

Fake It Until You Make It

Another thing: Don’t speak of any depressing matters, heaven forbid. On the contrary, always act joyfully, as though you are filled with joy in your heart—even though it’s not there in your heart at the time. Eventually it will be.

There’s reasoning behind this: When you makeWhen you consistently behave in a certain way, you eventually integrate that into your personality. it a consistent habit to behave in a certain way, you eventually integrate that into your personality. Maimonides writes this at the end of chapter one of Hilchot De’ot:

And how may a man acquire these attitudes so that they are permanent with him? He should do once, repeat, and do again the things he is called upon to do in harmony with the attitudes…and repeat the practice continuously until the doing it will be accomplished with slight effort, and they will not be burdensome upon him. Then will these attitudes be a fixed part of his personality.

He writes similarly in the fourth chapter of his Eight Chapters. The quote above, however, is within the context of healing the illnesses of the soul. In Sefer Hachinuch, mitzvah 16,6 you will find the same idea, and so too in many other places in their works.

Although none of their words require support or proof, nevertheless, there is proof according to the Kabbalah as well—in Pardes Rimonim, the Portal of Colors, chapter 1 [where he writes that a person should choose the colors of his clothes according to the disposition he wishes to channel from above]. He cites support for this from the Zohar, as well, that teaches that everything depends on the way you behave.7

All this leads to one point: You need to control your thought, speech and action so as not to mull over worrisome matters that weaken the heart, and so that, on the contrary, you speak and act as a happy person. Then these dispositions will become an integral part of your personality, and once they are, so too G‑d will pour His spirit upon you from above with joy and a good heart.

Never a Sad Song

So I heard from my grandfather, teacher and master, may his memory be for a blessing. When we were in Pienna, on the night of his passing, I began to pray the evening prayer with a sad melody. But he stopped me from doing so.

After I had finished my prayer, he told me, “So I heard from my teacherAccording to the attitude a person displays below, so he is shown from above. and master, the Magid, on the verse, ‘As the appearance of a man upon it from above’: According to the attitude a person displays below, so he is shown from above.”

The appropriate thing for a person of your stature to wean yourself from all sadness. If a person can remove dread from his heart even in a situation in which there is something to dread, as I pointed out, all the more so in your case, that, thank Heaven, you have nothing to fear whatsoever, neither in terms of your body’s health nor in matters of income.

After all, there was a thread of divine kindness extended over you this past summer. And there is a well-known statement of our sages, “Anyone who is favored, not so quickly etc.”8

Really all this is just the seduction of human urges. You need to cast it aside like any unsolicited thought, as evil mamesh. It’s written, “Don’t stray after your hearts, etc.” That means to turn your mind away from negative thoughts that are related to sins, as Maimonides writes (Hilchot Avodah Zarah, 2:3). In precisely the same way, you need to distance yourself from these pessimistic thoughts.

If, nevertheless, you wish to fulfill the mitzvah of worrying, then give it it’s proper place As the saying of the sages goes, “Secrets of Torah are shared only with one whose heart worries within him.”9

What type of worry? The distance of their soul from the Light of the Infinite, may He be blessed.

And what is the answer to that worry? That which the verse tells you, “This was my consolation in my poverty—that Your words of Torah gave me life…”10