From the very start of their sojourns in the wilderness, the Jewish
people meet numerous challenges they never had to address in their
days of slavery. Food, water, shelter and safety had been provided by
their masters in exchange for their backbreaking labor.
It therefore comes as no surprise that each of these needs brings on a
national panic and crisis of faith: How can they escape the oncoming
Egyptian hordes at the Red Sea? Where will they find fresh water in
the parched desert? What will they eat? How will 600,000 hungry
families find meat?
Through each of these crises, Moshe sympathizes; the people's needs
are real, their fears legitimate. Considering their past, what other
reaction can he expect from them? Thus, throughout each crisis, Moshe
speaks to the people calmly and reassuringly, expressing his deep
faith in G-d, a faith he hopes they, too, will begin to develop.
Only once in Parshat Beshalach does Moshe get angry at them,
only once does he feel the need to rebuke them for their complaints,
only once does he turn to G-d in frustration_after they demand water
for the second time and question G-d's providence of them.
Immediately, the Torah pronounces those ominous words: "Vayavo
Amaleik_And Amaleik came and waged war on Israel."
But Amaleik does not simply come out of nowhere, as Rashi points out;
he is brought on. B'nai Yisrael's lack of faith in G-d is only half
the story. They also treat Moshe with great disrespect. They do not
simply bring their grievance to Moshe, but actually fight with him
Throughout Parshat Beshalach, G-d makes it clear to the Jewish
people that He will take care of all their material needs, their food
and water, their clothing and shelter. He asks for but one thing in
return: that the Jewish people have complete faith in Him. Faith means
that they cannot demand things of G-d, nor can they test him.
A faithful Jew would never need to fight with Moshe or yell at him to
provide water. If G-d is the Provider, then there is no room to blame
another person. Since our formation as a nation, G-d alone has
provided for us and watched over us in every way possible. All we need
to do is appreciate His gifts properly.
For this reason, in Sidra Devarim, the mitzvah to
remember Amaleik's attack is placed beside the mitzvah to have honest
weights and measures, for, as many of the commentaries point out, if
we fail to treat each other with honesty and integrity, we invite
Amaleik upon us. To have dishonest weights and measures, to cheat at
business, is the surest sign that one does not really believe that G-d
is providing one's livelihood. Otherwise, why break_why even bend_the
If we do not demonstrate our faith in G-d, not only in our hearts but
in our conduct, we risk forfeiting our special Providential care and
make ourselves vulnerable to the harshness and brutality of Amaleik.
When the people of G-d forget G-d, they encounter a people who are
G-dless. When the Jewish people forget how to properly treat a
brother, they are confronted by a people who know no brothers and show
As the Jewish people prepare to depart from Egypt, each one busily
gathering his belongings, only Moshe takes the time to fulfill the
ancient promise made to Yosef, to carry his remains with them to be
buried in the Holy Land. Moshe is motivated to personally uphold this
vow because he knows that the Jewish people will be given the Torah
and begin a new lifestyle that they are not accustomed to, and it will
only be natural for them to question the viability of such a faith and
such a lifestyle.
The remains of Yosef, which, the Gemara states, were transported
beside the Holy Ark, served to remind this new nation of Yosef's
abiding faith in G-d in all that he did and through all that he
Yosef remained a moral man in a world of immorality. His example led
the way for the Jewish people then and leads the way for the Jewish
people today. As we move through this world, let us do so with honesty
and integrity, raising the banner of our faith in the One True G-d.
Rabbi Asher Bush
Rabbi Bush is the Rabbi of the Utopia Torah Congregation, Fresh
Meadows, Queens, NY.