Transcendental trio

How to fight Amalek.

Rabbanit Shira Smiles

Judaism Young women study Torah
Young women study Torah
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Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

In Parshat Beshalach we meet Amalek, the avowed enemy of Bnei Yisroel (the Jewish people) who will torment us in every generation. As Bnei Yisroel left Egypt, tired and weak, they were attacked by the opportunistic army of Amalek who wanted to wipe Bnei Yisroel off the face of the earth. While this was a physical attack, Amalek attacks us in many forms throughout history, from military attacks, to political attacks, to religious attacks and any combination that will further their agenda. It is therefore important that we understand the strategy involved in the counter attack both on a physical level and on a symbolic level so that we can continue to fight this war in every one of its manifestations.

It is obvious from the plain reading of the text that this original war was waged on two fronts. The physical war was led by Joshua and fought on the ground, and the spiritual war was waged by Moses sitting on a rock on a hill with his arms raised and supported by Aaron and Chur on either side of him.  Rashi identifies Chur as the son of Miriam, raising the question, why was it necessary to know who Chur was. Indeed, why do these three represent the spiritual forces that can defeat Amalek?

The Malbim explains that Aaron represented the unity of Bnei Yisroel, for he was known for his love of the people and his constant effort to bring peace among the people, even at the cost of telling little white lies. Chur, on the other hand, was the champion of the glory and honor of Hashem, as he later would die trying to prevent the sin of the golden calf. Moses, in the middle, was the unifying factor, holding it all together. Rabbi Roberts further clarifies this idea in Through the Prism of Torah. Bnei Yisroel needed the merit of these two men, Aaron representing the values of bein adam lechavero – between man and his fellow man, and Chur representing the values of bein adam laMakom –between man and God. The goal is to synthesize these two qualities, writes the Chasam Sofer, for this will create blessings and joy. Taking his idea from Moses’s final blessing to the Tribe of Asher, the Chasam Sofer writes that the key to asher – being joyous and blessed – is in combining the softness and malleability of the oil in Asher’s blessing with the foundation of strong iron and copper beneath his feet. Moses represented this synthesis, adds Rabbi Schwab in Mayein Beis Hashoeva. Whereas for all other battles, Moses prayed alone, here, in the battle with Amalek, Moses required both these attributes to join him.

Taking this interpretation of the two pronged battle one step further into the mystical realm, the Shvilei Pinchas writes that this was the most intense of all battles ever fought. Amalek tried to eradicate the knowledge of God’s presence in the world by the introduction of evil spirits that would shroud God’s presence. These three spirits were mashchit – destroyer, af – anger, and cheimah – rage. If we note the first letter of each of these negative conditions, we will recognize the initials for Moses, Aaron and Chur. These three men with their holiness were necessary to counteract the influence of those three evils. This is the threefold evil cited in Tehillim 78:38 and recited daily except on Shabbat before Maariv: “… He forgives iniquity and does not destroy; frequently He withdraws His anger, and does not arouse His entirerage.”

While Amalek attacked almost immediately after we left Egypt, it was a particular philosophical question that triggered the attack. Bnei Yisroel asked, “Is Hashem truly within us, or not?” It was this slight doubt in Hashem’s complete involvement in Bnei Yisroel that presented Amalek with the opening to attack Bnei Yisroel, for the mission of Amalek is to cast doubt into our faith, writes Meor Vashemesh. Therefore Moses’s uplifted hands were the guideposts to send the eyes of Bnei Yisroel toward heaven and strengthen their faith.

Where did this doubt originate? Rabbi Tatz discusses this very question in Worldmask. The element of doubt was brought into the world the moment Adam ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Notice that it was not a tree of pure evil; that would be relatively easy to fight. But the fruit of the tree contained an admixture of good and evil so that it was difficult to separate them and determine what was good and what was evil. Then Hashem starts playing by Adam’s rules, so to speak, as if He doesn’t know everything. “Ayekah - Where are you,” “Hamin hoetz – did you eat of the tree …?” In fact, that very question word hamin (is … of  ... the) constitutes the name of our arch enemy HaMaN who tried to destroy us who are the witnesses to God’s presence in the world. Haman is the descendent of Amalek whose mission it is to create and maintain a schism between Bnei Yisroel and God and thereby eradicate knowledge of God from humanity.

Let us see who is the father of Amalek. It is none other than Elifaz, son of Esau, whom Esau had sent to kill Yaakov as Yaakov fled to Laban’s house. Elifaz faced a moral dilemma, explains Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevits in Sichot Mussar. Should he obey his father and murder Yaakov, or should he obey God and not murder? It is only in this kind of intermingling of good and evil that evil can flourish, when there is a total loss of clarity, for evil incarnate is immediately recognizable and not given credibility.

Let us return now to our trio on the hill, fighting the battle in heaven. Not only do these three represent three who led Bnei Yisroel out of Egypt, Moses, Aaron, and Chur as Miriam’s representative, writes Oznayim LaTorah, but they also represent the three pillars that sustain the world, Torah, avodah, and gemilat chasadim writes the Aish Hatamid of Rav Druck.  Moses brought the Torah down from Sinai, Aaron the Priest performed the avodah in the Sanctuary, and Chur represented his mother Miriam who constantly performed act of chessed from saving Jewish babies to watching over the infant Moses and in whose merit we had water in the desert for forty years.

Rabbi Wolbe in Aleh Shor now explains the question Bnei Yisroel asked that precipitated Amalek’s attack. The question was not does Hashem exist. Rather the question was does Hashem exist as a practical part of my life, or is His Torah merely theoretical and philosophical? Amalek, the grandson of Esau, inherited the DNA that would confine Torah to theological and intellectual discussion. After all, Esau was intellectually immersed in Torah. He asked deep questions. In fact, his head is buried in Meorat Hamachpelah precisely for this reason. But he never let the principles within the Torah guide his actions or he would not have sold the birthright for a bowl of soup. But Torah must not remain purely intellectual. We must internalize it, writes Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalibuv. We must strive to be a talmid chacham, a constant student of the truth in Torah, and merit becoming a ben Torah, a metaphorical son of our Torah teachers. It was therefore imperative that Bnei Yisroel look upward from Moses’s hands to heaven so that the struggle of good against evil becomes an emotional struggle rather than an intellectual one, writes Rabbi Mordechai Mizrahi in Birkat Mordechai. It is equally imperative that we continue to look heavenward in our daily struggles.

Our Torah must impact our lives. The purpose of prayer is to bring us closer to Hashem and to a stronger faith that we can do nothing on our own, but we must rely constantly on Hashem, writes Rabbi Rabinowitz in Tiv Hatorah. Interestingly, Esau had the logo of a serpent on his thigh, notes Rabbi Brazile in Bishvili Nivra Haolam. The serpent was cursed that he should eat of the dust of the earth. Because the dust is ubiquitous, the serpent would never need to pray to Hashem and would never develop a relationship with Him. Esau and his descendents Amalek, as the serpent, remain aloof and haughty. In fact, the numerical equivalent of Amalek is 240, equal to that of ram, haughty.

That’s why Moses’s hands had to be raised above his head, explains Rabbi Tatz. Hands symbolize action, and as the people who accepted the Torah at Sinai, we profess that we will do, naaseh, before nishma, whether or not we understand with our heads. Esau’s attitude is always leading with the head, what’s in it for me. As long as the hands were higher than the head, Bnei Yisroel prevailed, but if the head and the ego led the way, Bnei Yisroel would falter.

Rabbi Nissan Alpert notes that in our expression chessed precedes emes. He explains that if we put emes, truth, first, we introduce doubt into our actions with questions like, haven’t you done enough already, or why bother getting involved? One will never get to chessedthat way. The hands and action must go first.

It is in this context that Halekach Vehalebuv explains why Moses supported himself by sitting on an even, a rock. Rabbi Schorr notes that the three Hebrew letters that spell out e-v-en are an acronym for the three tractates that one should study if he hopes to become a righteous person: Avot  Ethics of our Fathers which focuses on interpersonal/ social relationships, Berachot – which focuses on our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu and thanking Him for all that we have, and Nezikin – Damages which teaches respect for the property of others. These are the constant battles of Amalek: Do I need to acknowledge Hashem? Do I need to respect the rights and the property of others? Let me lift my hands and show you that they are clean and pure in all my dealings.

The Alshich Hakadosh offers yet another homiletic interpretation to this trio. Moses understood that he would need to tap into the merit of our forefathers to succeed in this battle. Therefore, the three on the hill were representative of those original three. Moses himself represented Yaakov, absolute and complete truth and of perfection in his family. But citing only Yaakov, Moses feared, would not be enough to bring success in his battle. He needed both Avraham and Yitzchak alongside him. However, Avraham had the imperfect Yishmael along with the righteous Yitzchak, while Yitzchak himself fathered the evil Esau. To counter these, Moses drafted Aaron who, through his own constant service of chessed, would negate the influence of Yishmael and perfect the chessed of Avraham. Similarly, Chur would be the counterbalance to the evil Esau who misused the gevurah (strength, power, valor) Yitzchak represented. Moses could thus draw on the merit of our forefathers without also involving their evil offspring.

Rav Reiss takes this image one step further. When Bilaam was forced to bless Bnei Yisroel instead of cursing them, he says, “For from its origins I see it rock-like, and from hills do I see it.” Our Sages interpret the rocks to refer to our patriarchs while the hills refer to our matriarchs. Now, when Bnei Yisroel was in an existential battle with Amalek, Moses would invoke the merit of our righteous patriarchs and matriarchs. He went up on the hill and they put a rock under him, symbolically supporting Moses’s prayers with those of our ancestors. The redemption, writes the Sefas Emes, will always come through the merit of our  Matriarchs, even when the merit of the patriarchs has ended.

The parsha ends with the promise that Hashem will erase the memory – a(e)mcheh - of Amalek from under the heavens. The Vilna Gaon reads that word, emcheh – I will erase- as an acronym for our deliverers from each exile. Our deliverers from Egyptian exile wereAaron, Moses, Chur and Hashem. The principals in the redemption from the Babylonian (segued into Persian) exile were (A)Esther,Mordechai, Charbonah and Hashem. Our final redemption will be through Eliyahu, Moshiach, eight (ch) princes and Hashem. At that time, with Hashem guiding us, we will have vanquished the evil forces of Amalek. May it be speedily, in our day.

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