Friday, January 29, 2010

war with Mitzrayim and war with Amalek

Little time to write today, so just a quick thought from the Ishbitza: there are two different wars mentioned in this week’s parsha of Beshalach and they are fought in two different ways. When the Egyptian army was in hot pursuit at Yam Suf, Moshe was told “Hashem yilachem lachem,” G-d will do the fighting. Yet, later in the parsha, when Bnei Yisrael were forced to fight Amalek, Moshe instructed Yehoshua to choose men for an army and to go and wage war. Why the difference?

The Ishbitza explains that the Egyptians and Amalek posed very different dangers. The Egyptians denied the power of Hashem, the truth of Judaism. Pharaoh challenged Moshe, “Mi Hashem asheh eshma b’kolo?” – “Who is G-d that I should listen to Him?” The nation of Amalek did not deny G-d, but instead claimed that they, and not Bnei Yisrael, were G-d’s people and their ideology was the truth. The very existence of Amalek was taken as proof of G-d’s acquiescence to their “mission.” The defeat of these enemies required not just a physical armed response, but also, and more importantly, it required an ideological response to their wrong philosophy. (Compare this Ishbitza with the vort of the Brisker Rav we discussed here.)

In response to the Egyptian denial of G-d, Hashem told the Jewish people to stand aside and allow him battle for them, demonstrating that human effort is inconsequential in the face of G-d’s will. In response to the Amalekite usurpation of the truth, G-d instructed Moshe to raise an army and fight, demonstrating that G-d’s will is manifest only through human agency, and that human agency can either further or distort G-d’s message.

The battles against Egypt and Amalek, like all parshiyos, teach us a limud l’doros. These two enemies are archetypes of the challenges we face to this very day, and you can just browse the internet to find the battlefields of Yam Suf or Refidim. On the one hand, there are the skeptics who relish denial, “proving” religion to be a sham, lining up their memorized clichés from Dennet, Hitchens, Dawkins, documentary hypothesis, or whatever else is out there. On the other hand, there are those who do not deny Torah, but have usurped its authentic message and replaced it with a substitute more palatable to their lifestyle, intelligence, or desires, dismissing all who disagree as either irrational fanatics or ignorant fools. It's up to us to craft the proper ideological response to both of these challenges.


  1. Anonymous1:13 PM

    it says vayameenu bashem umoshe avdo. then soon after that things go downhill very fast.
    do the meforshim provide an explanation?

  2. Nothing comes to mind offhand

  3. Tal Benschar10:27 AM

    Bava Kamma 82a