Red Strings: Fantasizing Away Fear

Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reader: You've come down awfully hard on Jewish women who wear Red Bendels, or mothers who tie red ribbons on their children's cribs and baby carriages. I'm looking at the peace of mind benefits, the good feeling of possible protection derived from these actions. We live in a world loaded with FEARS! I don't believe that any previous generations had as much FEAR awareness as we have now.

Pick up any newspaper, magazine, Jewish or secular, and what do we constantly read? This person, child, adult, group of people, killed or injured. The media thrives on calamity! T.V. is no better! How come, when we switch channels at news time, they all are presenting the same news: calamity, kidnapping, robbery, injury, fires, crashes, murder, terrorism, and sickness. The mad actions of degenerates have created a generation of phobics! The mad actions of ãhopelessä societies have dominated the world scenes. FEAR is being created in our minds every second of the day.

Forget about degenerates. Lets look at the medical profession. We know how they work. First create FEAR in their patients, and then they get the automatic return visit, or a recommended procedure. One of the largest purchasers of T.V. advertising is the drug industry. They are constantly offering safe remedies, but with possible dangerous side affects. These commercials are a constant reminder to sicknesses.

So, whichever way we turn, we have FEAR breathing up our necks, into our brains, into our souls. So let's be realistic! Anything, which can give us relief, a false sense of safety, a false feeling of a counter-balance to FEAR, is a good! Isn't a red Bendel or red ribbon helping certain people squelch their FEARS? If these items give some peace of mind, extra comfort, to a nervous mother, isn't the benefit more important than adhering to Torah and don'ts? It's all very nice and good, when you quote ancient Rabbis' decisions and opinions, observing events and evaluating peoples' actions in the twelfth century. But how much FEAR was their generation subjected to? They weren't made aware of Holocausts and wars occurring 60 years before. They weren't able to see movies and photos and newspapers vividly depicting the horrors we have in our memory banks today. They weren't able to see the horrible results of a bus bomb, which had just taken place 7,000 miles away. Their FEAR was limited to their small shtetl. Maybe they were better off without T.V., without state of the art communications.

How do we weigh the benefits of a good, against the infringement? Let's look at the FEAR of making a safe car trip, a safe boat trip, and a safe plane trip. When someone receives a coin, or a bill to take with him or her, to have a safe trip, is this not the same as the red ribbon? Isn't it another article of protection? Doesn't this schleach gelt offer the same opposite to FEAR? Some people say there is no infringement because the traveler is on a mitzvah mission. So using a red Bendel is not allowed, but using a dollar bill, is allowed? I think we should focus on the benefit, rather than on the vehicle possibly producing the benefit. And what is the benefit? Subduing the FEAR. Affording a little extra comfort.

Mesora: First, I would distinguish between the real Torah merit of charity, and man's manufactured red bendels. But I don't feel one should assume with 100% conviction that he will be protected on board a jet because he plans to give $1.00 when he arrives in Israel.

However, more central to your comments, you already answered your own question above, "isn't the benefit more important than adhering to Torah?"

Torah knowledge is absolute reality, i.e., truth...and all that opposes Torah, is falsehood. Similarly, we view God's other creation, the universe, and observe real laws. Any theory contradicting these laws is false, as our eyes and our experiments do not lie.

We realize all that God created - be it in His universe, or in His Torah - are what is truly "real", and all that contradicts His universal laws and Torah, as complete falsehood: we detect gravity, so a theory that gravity does not exist is falsehood. We sense that heat is conductive; hence, a theory that heat does not spread is false. Similarly, we realize that God is responsible for all that exists, so a theory that physical objects override His will or His system of "Reward and Punishment", is false. Red strings, rabbit's feet, horse shoes and the like have no demonstrable properties that can remove life's troubles. They are therefore viewed as lies.

We can lie to our lives, assuming to combat real issues with manufactured panaceas. Or we can analyze our fears and problems, detect their source in reality, and then address those very real causes with real solutions and strategies, resulting in a happier existence. It's all up to you wish to pretend, and fantasize away your fears, or live in reality, and eliminate your troubles in a real way? A rational person would desire his problems to cease permanently in reality, and not temporarily in his imagination. The truth is, your position is contradictory: for if you feel you may fantasize away your fear using a red string, why don't you just "imagine" to be wearing that string as well?

However, your very act of "wearing" a red string implies that you affirm "cause and effect" methods: the cause is "wearing" the string. Certainly you feel that if you do not wear the string, it cannot help you. But if you truly agree with cause and effect, study these red strings, and see if you determine any effect it may have. If you see no benefit in reality, you must abandon wearing these strings.

Here's an experiment for you: take 2 eggs, and tie a red string around one. Drop both of them off of your roof. If the egg with the string does not break, then keep wearing it.

I will end with a quote from one of Judaism's greatest thinkers: "Those with empty brains say 'were it not that fortune tellers and magicians were true, the Torah would not prohibit them.' But I say just the opposite of their words, because the Torah doesn't prohibit that which is true, but it prohibits that which is false. And the proof is the prohibition on idols and statues." (Ibn Ezra, Leviticus, 19:31)