Even after the climactic conclusion of the Jewish nation's departure from
Egypt with the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds, their journey to Mount Sinai
was not without travail. The battle initiated by Amalek - intended more as a
challenge to G-d than an attack on His chosen people - created a state of
war that continues to this day. As soon as the Amalekite offensive commenced
upon the weakest of the children of Israel, "Moshe said to Yehoshua
(Joshua), 'Choose men for us and go out, do battle with Amalek; tomorrow I
will stand on top of the hill with the staff of G-d in my hand.'"
(Shemos/Exodus 17:9) In all of the challenges Moshe faced during his
heretofore-brief leadership, he had never before called on Yehoshua for
assistance. Why did this crisis initiate Yehoshua's involvement?
The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Mayer Kagan; 1838-1933; author of basic
works in Jewish law, philosophy and ethics; acknowledged as the foremost
leader of Torah Jewry at the turn of the last century) explains that
Yehoshua's strength was his constant involvement in Torah study. Thus, he
was best suited to challenge Amalek whose strength was borne in the laxity
the children of Israel demonstrated in toiling in Torah, as Mechilta notes
that the name of the battle site - Refidim - came from the weakness
("rafah", in Hebrew) of the Jews in Torah, which allowed Amalek to approach.
Furthermore, when Moshe specifically asked Yehoshua to "go out" to war, he
used the command "tzei", a word which implies "you YOURSELF go out," to
convey that the key to victory was in Yehoshua's hand and in his merit.
Rabbi Kagan continues that the primacy of Torah involvement in determining
the victor in battle is indicated in the Torah's verbiage later in this
chapter. During the battle with Amalek, Moshe kept his hands elevated to
keep the focus of the warriors heavenward. When Moshe's strength faltered
and his hands dropped, the momentum of the battle would switch to Amalek's
favor, until Moshe raised his hands and the renewed focus on G-d would sway
the battle to the Jews' favor. But the Torah's word choices that convey that
Moshe raised his hands and lowered his hands are more literally translated
as "when Moshe WILL raise his hands...when he WILL lower his hands". The
Chofetz Chaim elaborates that this reference to the future tells us that in
every generation the strength of the Jewish people is the strength of its
Torah: when our Torah is strong, we win; when our Torah is neglected, we
suffer (Heaven forbid).
Our fellow Jews around the world are threatened in ways not seen in over
half a century. In Israel and in Europe Jewish lives are at risk, and many
North American universities and media outlets come to the defense of our
persecutors. At this time, the politicians cannot find a solution and the
military cannot find a solution...but we DO possess the solution. Another
weekly parsha sheet, a weekly Jewish learning class, ten minutes of our
lunch break reading a Jewish study text instead of the daily paper or our
favorite web log. When we follow Moshe's example and we elevate ourselves
with Torah, we fortify our own Jewish commitment while we buttress the
security of the entire Jewish people.