'Israel always had a strong army'

Why Israel is enjoined to take up arms and defend itself - even when there are miracles.

Dr. Joseph Frager,

Dr. Joe Frager
Dr. Joe Frager
Courtesy of Dr. Frager

In the opening psukim of Parshat Beshalach we are introduced to the Nation of Israel possessing an army.

"It happened when Pharaoh sent out the people that G-d did not lead them by way of the Land of the Philistines which was near for G-d said, "Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see War, and they will return to Egypt." So G-d turned the people toward the desert to the Sea of Reeds.

And the Children of Israel were ("Chamushim") armed when they went up from the Land of Egypt." When did the Children of Israel have time to prepare an army while enslaved in Egypt? Why was it necessary to bear arms at all? G-d had said (13:9) "For with a Strong Hand Hashem took you out of Egypt". G-d was saying that indeed no arms would be necessary to leave Egypt. If G-d felt it important to state that the Jews were "armed" why did he make sure to state that he "did not lead them by the way of the Land of the Philistines which was near? They had an army, plus G-d could defeat the Philistines as easily as he defeated the Egyptians even without an army if he so desired?

Rashi says that the word "Chamushim" does indeed relate to bearing arms (13:8). Rashi brings down Onkelos who also says it means arms. Rashi does bring down a Davar Acheir (alternative) that the word "Chamushim" implies only one-fifth of the Jews left Egypt. Rashi says the remaining four-fifths died during the Plague of Darkness. Rabbi Raphael Butler says based upon the Medrash, these Jews died because they were part of the "me" generation. They were well connected and wealthy. They did not fulfill or accept G-d's Plan. Most likely both meanings of "Chamushim" brought down by Rashi apply. The Jews were armed and only one fifth (600,000 men) survived.

According to my professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University, Dr. Irving Agus of Blessed Memory, this 20% "core" would repeat itself throughout Jewish History. It was the "core" that kept us surviving as a people despite all of the devastating persecutions, Pogroms, Inquisitions and wars through the millennia. The Rabeinu Bachye answers some of the questions above. He says that the Children of Israel, unlike the other nations of the world, do not need arms.

Truly, G-d Almighty can fight all of our wars as he did against Egypt. It is the Way of the Torah to act in a normal fashion.The Jews should not be dependent upon a miracle even though the miracles will come. G-d is clearly stressing this point by even mentioning that the Children of Israel left Egypt armed. G-d helps those who help themselves. It was important for the Children of Israel to have an Army even though G-d did not plan to bring a War upon them. He was trying to avert a war with the Philistines by taking then through the Wilderness.

The War with Amalek which occurs at the end of Parshat Beshalach was a surprise attack for which Amalek is never to be forgiven and must be blotted out. Rashi says the War with Amalek was a punishment for the Children of Israel testing G-d by saying "Is Hashem in our midst or not?"(17:7). Having an army prevented disaster. Rabbi Nison Alpert of Blessed Memory says that the Jews were taken through the wilderness for many years "so that they would become accustomed to trust in him and believe that he sustains mankind, and to come to the realization that there is nothing that is beyond His ability".

Rabbi Alpert Z'L maintains that having taken the Jews via the way of the Phillistines would have been the "natural way" ("Derech Eretz") but the Jews needed the 40 years in the Desert to experience Almighty Hashem under harsh conditions to help them develop deep Faith.

As the Jews were leaving Egypt, Moshe said (13:4-5),"Today you are leaving, in the month of spring. And it shall come to pass when Hashem shall bring you to the Land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivvite, and the Jebusite which he swore to your Forefathers to give to you-a land flowing with milk and honey-you shall perform this service in this month". They left triumphantly fully expecting to enter into the Land of Israel led by their Leader, Moshe. As I described in my thoughts on Parshat Vayelech, the Yalkut Shimoni says that Yehoshua's father, Nun, was the leader of a Revolt against Pharaoh and was killed. It is not clear if the Yalkut Shimoni is referring to the Bnei Ephraim Revolt that took place 30 years before the Exodus. Yehoshua was a Descendant of Ephraim.

The Bnei Ephraim tried to enter Eretz Yisrael before the appointed time and were massacred. In Parshat Beshalach in the "Shira" reference is made to the Bnei Ephraim. (15:14) "Peoples heard-they tremble: terror gripped the inhabitants of Philistia". Rashi says they trembled because they killed the Bnei Ephraim. Rashi also goes on to say that the Bnei Ephraim "hurried the end" implying that they were heroes who made G-d bring the Exodus sooner.

This episode might well have made Yehoshua prepare the Army he led out of Egypt.The Bnei Ephraim had more privileges because they were direct descendants of royalty. This may have allowed them to even learn how to use a sword. It may have been done in a clandestine fashion as the Jews of the Holocaust learned the Art of War in the Ghetto.

It should be mentioned that the State of Israel came into being in 1948 through the efforts of Holocaust survivors who had learned to fight in the cauldron of World War II. Although there are many reasons G-d did not want to take the Children of Israel by the way of the Land of the Phillistines, one may be out of respect for the Bnei Ephraim who had tried to enter Israel this way and perished. Their graves were still "fresh".

It would have been quite disturbing to the Children of Israel. Hence G-d says, "Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see war and they will return to Egypt". This is a reference to the Bnei Ephraim. The Final Redemption I'YH will come with a well-armed Israel with a strong IDF at the appointed time. As is stated in the Shira (15:3) "Hashem is the Master of War;Hashem is his name." Despite this fact the Jews who left Egypt had a Strong Army. Chazak VaEmatz. Shabbat Shalom