Thinning the HerdBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
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…