This Week in Torah
Shabbat Beshalach 5774: Exodus 13:17-17:16 & Judges 4:4-5:31 or 5:1-31 (Sephardic)
God’s Miracles, Human Challenges
The final verse of Beshalach is Moses’ admission of Divine limitation as he declares Amalek a ‘hand on the Throne of God’ and a people with whom God will be at war throughout the generations. It is a depressing end to a parashah whose central narrative is God’s defeat of Egypt’s gods through drowning Pharaoh’s army and the victory songs of Moses and Miriam. Besides, who can forget Yule Brenner returning to his palace alone, defeated and dejected?
Should Moses’ remark be surprising? Directing the response to Amalek’s attack, Moses needs Aaron and Hur to support his arms, meaning that Moses needed their very human assistance in signaling the army from a nearby hill. (That’s how it was done before radios.) Introducing Joshua bin Nun as a general, the text presages the different leadership that will be needed, forty years hence, when Israel’s leader’s primary task will turn from law giving and organizing to the more physical requirements of conquest and defense. Fending off Amalek is the first instance of the Hebrews taking care of themselves without God’s intervention.
Like a late adolescent, the Hebrews might have started to realize that their Parent was not always going to intervene. Twice, since the Song of the Sea, miracles were required to supply them with water. Failing to find food through their own devices, they needed manna. Stymied, unable to do for it themselves, God provided miracles before they went into full rebellion. Coming at the end of the parasha, the war with Amalek taught us that, when faced with new circumstances, we cannot always rely on Divine ‘bail outs.’ Some things we have to handle on our own.
God even predicted that Pharaoh would say that the Israelites were ‘nevuchim’ – confounded in the wilderness, adrift in uncharted circumstances, struggling to find their way. Pharaoh was right and, it was not the last time that we’ve been unsure of how to proceed. Maimonides’ major philosophical work “Moreh Nevuchim” – Guide for the Perplexed, is his attempt to help his Jewish community find its way in a world awash with attractive new ideas that threatened to separate our people from God and our traditions.
We do not have to wait for an analysis of the Pew study before we realize that Judaism in Israel and America is currently in new and unfamiliar territory. Like our forbearers coming out of Egypt, we benefit from manifold miracles followed by worldly tests – disunity within and present-day Amalekites without. Challenges we must face with commitment, creativity, unity and faith.
Rabbi Steve Denker
This week Rabbi Denker’s message was also printed in the Cleveland Jewish News.