Torah Insights for Shabbat
Parshat Beshalach 5758
February 6, 1998
Parshas Beshalach tells two stories. It begins with the people of Israel leaving Egypt, journeying into the desert and through the Red Sea. It describes the Egyptians drowning, followed by the song of Moshe and the Jewish nation. The parshah ends with a description of Amalek's attack upon the people of Israel, the battle that took place, and G-d's promise to obliteratethe memory of Amalek.A look at the victories against these two enemies of Israel reveals a distinction.
G-d alone defeated Egypt, as the Torah states, "The Lord will fight for you and you shall hold your peace." The battle with Amalek, by contrast, was fought by the nation, albeit with G-d's miraculous help. Moshe commanded Yehoshua to choose elite soldiers and lead them into battle. Moshe stayed in the background and prayed, holding his hands high, begging G-d to forgive the Israelites and give them victory. While Moshe's hands were raised heavenward, the Torah tells us, the Jewish people prevailed. But when he put them down, they fell.
The Talmud, questioning how it was that Moshe's hands determined success or failure, states that "as long as Israel looked to their Father in heaven, they were victorious; but when they did not, they faltered."
In his splendid work, Hadrash V'haiyun, the Raisher Rov, Rabbi Aaron Levine explains that Moshe's prayer came at a difficult time for Israel, for they did not deserve salvation--having just questioned G-d's presence among them and His concern for them. The war took place in Refidim, so called because the people of Israel loosened (rafu) their hands from Torah.
The battle with the Amalekites also marked the debut of Yehoshua as a leader of the nation. The Ramban notes that Yehoshua's position in the community was not only enhanced but firmly established as a result of his leadership in this battle. The Midrash states that Yehoshua was anointed with oil on that day, an inaugural procedure reserved for kings. (Even Moshe was not anointed.) In directing Yehoshua, Moshe told him that the war would begin "Tomorrow." The power of tomorrow is an important concept in Judaism. Moshe in particular looked forward to the anticipated accomplishments of the next day and those of the future. He spoke about the future destiny of our people as if this battle would secure our eternal relationship with G-d.
Parshas Beshalach speaks of the future of Israel and of our people's potential. Yehoshua came into his own, and the nation moved on to Sinai, recognizing the importance of their relationship with G-d.Rabbi Abraham Halbfinger
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