No Atheist in a Foxhole?

By Yaakov Grant

Come on, how often do we hear this well known maxim? Sounds good, but it struck me recently that this may be a dangerous idea for a BT to toy with. I mean that well known mindset that often takes over a BT usually soon after he first rediscovers his precious roots, which is something like “now I’m convinced let’s start on my pals/ family”.

However this is not the minefield I wish to go down as I’m sure any experienced BT has learnt this lesson to some extent. What seems to me to be a subtler issue which can land us in a similar mess is where someone close to us, but not yet observant, needs a yeshua. In such circumstances, the yetzer may try to convince us to use the “No atheist” idea and even come up with a suggestion that if our friend takes on to do something or refrain from doing something this may help give him the yeshua he needs. And if we’ve seen or heard Rav Amnon Yitzchak in action giving brachas out to the incredible sound of the thousands in the crowd shout “amen”, the Yetzer may have a field day trying to get us to copy him.

I assume this is shared by several others out there, so can I suggest an answer to this Yetzer. Maybe there is more than one type of foxhole – the physical and the spiritual. OK, ultimately the physical is a manifestation of the spiritual, but I think there are two key points to be aware that come out of this difference. 1) First now is probably not the best time to try to convince our friend that they are also in a deep spiritual foxhole as well and how easy it is to do teshuva. If there are no signs that they are thinking along these lines then we are probably going to get ourselves into hot water. 2) To play the spiritual doctor, even within the context of giving a short bracha, takes a lot of chochma and experience, probably more than the average BT has.

So now that we have quashed this yetzer, are we supposed to sit back and despair with them. Of course not – that’s the Yetzer’s main goal after all! No, for sure we have to deep digger into the powerful ‘kiruv technique’ of our forefather Avraham Avinu – chesed. Yes, I should have stated this earlier since chesed and expressing genuine concern over another’s situation is needed in any case.But my question remains. Are we never supposed to ‘talk emuna’ unless they bring up a question themselves? And is there a right balance to aim for between tefillo, chessed and dare I say it, discussing the bigger picture with them? We should be zoche to see all the yeshuos we need b’kal u’bifrat bba.

4 comments on “No Atheist in a Foxhole?

  1. Yaakov,
    What are your motivations for talking emunah with this person? Is it to lead them in a direction that you see they might be willing, one day, to go? Because if a person is willing and open to discussions about emunah, or any other spiritual matter, such a discussion can be very appropriate. But what is not appropriate is to “use” a personal nisayon that the person is facing as a way to force the issue, preach about how emunah will make everything OK, or scare the person in their time of distress.

    As a quite observant person going through my own nisionos at this moment, I can tell the difference between a person who is preaching at me, or spouting aphorisms to me just so they can feel less uncomfortable with the situation, or whether their divrei chizuk are just that, coming from a place of love and empathy. THATs what Avraham Avinu had — a love for each person, and a recognition of their tzelem elokim. WIthout that, any discussion about emunah will sound preachy and will be offputting. But with the love, even if the words don’t strike home, the connection and respect and caring will.

  2. I don’t know if you have to proactively talk emunah but more often than not you find plenty of “Why do bad things happen to good/innocent people?” rage in foxholes before any despair sets in. It’s probably wise to be prepared with some kind of approach to counter what has historically been the #1 obstacle to emunah.

  3. Chessed is great not only for its own sake but as a bridge that makes two people more aware of each other and each other’s needs. This sets the stage for kiruv, if conditions are favorable.

  4. Thought provoking post. We need to remember that Avraham Avinu’s ten opened on all four sides. His lifestyle was on display for all to see. By living a life of Torah Judaism in a vibrant way and showing our midos tovos (good character traits) in all we do, people will notice. Those who gravitate towards Torah and mitzvos will come near us.

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