OU TORAHDedicated by the Jacobs and Chill Families in Memory of Harold and Pearl Jacobs
Dora Bas Rivka Silver O'H
Thinning the Herd
Gideon's army was too large for G-d's tastes. Yes, the army was too LARGE. G-d wanted it to be clear that the victory was in no way a natural occurrence and, while it is unlikely that 32,000 Jews would defeat 135,000 Midianites, it is not outside the realm of possibility.
G-d told Gideon to send home whoever was afraid of battle. 22,000 people went home, leaving 10,000 to fight 135,000 Midianites. You know what? Still too many.
G-d had Gideon bring the soldiers to the water to drink. Those who bent down to the water like dogs were sent home. Those who scooped water up remained. 300 remained. (300 Jews versus 135,000 Midianites? THAT'S more like it!)
Gideon and his attendant went down to the Midianite camp where they heard one of the enemy soldiers relating a dream to his friend. In his dream, a roasted loaf of barley bread rolled into their camp and knocked over a tent. The other Midianite interpreted the dream to mean that G-d has delivered them into Gideon's hands. (Overhearing this was most encouraging to Gideon.)
Gideon's game plan: he gave each of his men a shofar and a torch. Each man put his lit torch inside a jug (sort of like a Biblical-era "KosherLamp"). When Gideon gave the signal, they blew their shofars, making a tremendous noise. Then they broke the jugs which made even more noise and revealed the torches. All this was disorienting enough, but remember that armies normally have one torch-bearer and one bugler per platoon. Seeing so many torches and hearing so many shofars also made the Midianites think a giant army was put there in the dark.
The Jews had surrounded the Midianite camp on three sides. The enemy forces fled through the unblocked side and were pursued by the Israelite troops. Gideon sent messengers to the Tribe of Ephraim, asking them to block the enemy's escape. The people of Ephraim captured and executed two generals, Orev and Zeev. All's well that ends well, right? Keep reading...
A short Insight into Judges, Chapter 7Rabbeinu Bachya explains that when Yaakov Avinu started his journey to see his long lost son Yosef, Hashem appeared to him in a dream and said (Bereishis, 46,4), “Have no fear of descending to Egypt … Anochi eireid imcha Mitzraiymah v'anochi a'alcha gam aloh” - “I shall descend with you to Egypt and I shall surely bring you up.”
This is a hint here that the Shechinah will descend with them. Although the translation from Onkelus usually tries to veer away from attributing “physical” type behavior with Hashem, here Onkelus confirms the hint as he translates “eireid”as “eichus” - “I will go down”( differently than he translates it in Shemos “Vayeired Hashem be'anan” - “And Hashem descended in a cloud” ; Onkelous – “v'isgali Hashem” - “And Hashem revealed Himself”).
The reason the possuk mentions “Mitzraiymah” and “aloh” - with letter “hei” at the end of each is to allude to the second “hei” in the name of Hashem. Since Hashem descended with them, there was blessing even in bad times. For example, there was an abundance of food to be stored away at the time of the famine as hinted to by Yosef's words, “hei lachem zerah” - “Take for you seed” with “hei” - a hint to the presence of Hashem in Egypt.
This is what Chazal teach us: “They were exiled to Egypt. Hashem was with them. They were exiled to Bavel. Hashem was with them. They were exiled to Edom. Hashem is with them.”
For this reason Hashem said to Yaakov, “Al tira meirdah Mitzraiyma” - “Have no fear of descending to Egypt” and not “al tira laredes” as it says in our perek (possuk 10) “v'im ata yarei laredes” - “If you are afraid to descend.” By saying meirdah with a “hei”, there is another hint of Hashem's presence with us in our exile.