Beshalach-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
Â This weeks From the Waters of the Shiloah is dedicated in memory of Gitel Leah A.H. bas Menachem Mendel HYâ€D; Mrs. Lidia Schwartz, the authors mother, whose yuhrzeit is Thursday, 8 Shevat.
Please learn this dvar Torah lâ€™ilui nishmasah.
HaShem will wage war for you [against Egypt] and you must remain silent. And HaShem said to Moshe, Why do you cry out in prayer to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel.
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, â€œThis is no time to pray at length, when Israel is in distress.â€ Another explanation [of Godâ€™s question (Why do you cry out to me?) implies]: â€œThe matter depends on Me and not on you,â€
And so it was that as long as Moshe held his hands up Israel would be winning but when he let his hands down then the battle would turn in Amalekâ€™s favor â€¦ Â and his hands remained faithful; steady until sunset.Â
All is foreseen, yet autonomy is granted
And Rabi Chanina said â€œall is in the Hands of Heaven except the awe of Heavenâ€
There are two conflicting approaches to confronting the enemy that appear in this weekâ€™s Sidra.Â Towards the beginning of the Sidra, when the Jewish people literally had their backs against the wall with the pounding surf of the Sea of Reeds before them and the Egyptian cavalry giving chase from the rear, the Divine command for silence came.Â Not only were the Jews not allowed to wage war against their enemies; they were not even permitted to pray for Divine intervention.
In sharp contrast to this, at the end of the Sidra, we find that prayer was the weapon of choice when the Jews were waging war against the Amalekites. Our sages teach us that during the Amalek war, when Moshe had his arms outstretched in prayer, the tide of the battle would turn in the Jews favor (Targum Yerushalmi ad locum). Â When the hands would drop and the prayers stop, so would the military advances.Â The Mei HaShiloach asks: why were there such a drastic difference in tactics and strategies for confronting these two mortal enemies?
His answer is based on the succinct epigram that encapsulates kivayachol -if you will, the â€œdivision of laborâ€ between HaShem and human beings. â€œAll is in the Hands of Heaven except the awe of Heaven IE how one serves HaShem.â€ This means that absolutely everything in our lives; our health, our wealth, our popularity and the success of our relationships is up to HaShem.Â The only area in which we enjoy a true autonomy is in exercising our human free-will to make moral and ethical choices.
Both halves of the axiom are equally true. Â To claim that â€œnot everything is in the Hands of Heavenâ€ is patently heretical.Â This position advances a false theology that would limit HaShemâ€™s Infinite Power. Â But in Judaism it is not enough to have an accurate and true theology.Â One must maintain an accurate and true â€œhumanologyâ€ (for want of a better word) as well.Â To deny the second half of the axiom by saying that there are no exceptions to the rule; that ALL is in the Hands of Heaven, period, including â€œthe awe of Heavenâ€ IE including how one serves HaShem, is no less heretical.
The Mei HaShiloach explains that, historically, the nations of the world that have opposed, antagonized and oppressedÂ Klal Yisrael-the Jewish people have been proponents of one of these two heresies.Â Their cultures, their weltanschauungs, their very collective national beings, were predicated either on the proposition that not everything is in the Hands of Heaven or that, on the contrary, all is in the Hands of Heaven including human awe of Heaven IE that human free choice is an illusion and that all human behavior, even apparent moral and ethical choices, are entirely controlled by HaShem .
The Egyptians under the Pharaoh are archetypes of the first heresy.Â Having positioned himself as a deity in his own right PharaohÂ couldÂ hardly have conceded exclusive and absolute control of the cosmos to a â€œrivalâ€ deity.Â On the contrary Pharaoh portrayed himself as the one in total control of all the transpired in Egypt as he declared; â€œThe [Nile] river is mine, and I have made it.â€(Yechezkel 29:9).Â He was a living incarnation of â€œIt was my own might and the personal power of my hand that has brought me all this prosperityâ€(Devarim 8:17)
The nation of Amalek is the quintessence of their progenitor, Esav. Esav is portrayed by our sages as a yisrael mumar-a Jew who has traded true faith for heresy (Kiddushin 18A). There are as many ways to become a heretic as there are heresies and the precise nature as of the Esavs heresy is unclear. Â However, Chazaâ€l (Sanhedrin 60A,Berachos 10A-Hagahos HaBacâ€h footnote 2) use this term, yisrael mumar, to describe another Biblical character; Ravshakei.
He was the one who said to the emissaries of King Chizkiyahu â€œDid I now arise against this land to destroy it without HaShem? HaShem said unto me: go up against this land, and destroy it.â€ (Yechezkel 36:10). Ravshakei and the emperor he represented, Nebuchadnezzar, had exercised their free-will to arrive at the decision to destroy Chizkiyahuâ€™s kingdom.Â Yet he did not consider himself accountable.Â He attributed his own choice to G-d.Â In his soliloquy Ravshakei asks many rhetorical questions.Â Expecting no answers, he was actually telling Chizkiyahuâ€™s emissaries â€œdonâ€™t rely on your military alliance with Egypt.Â But donâ€™t rely on HaShem either, for it was He who sent me to destroy you.Â Â I am no more than a knight in the hands of the Divine chess master.â€
The Izhbitzer asserts that Ravshakeiâ€™s ostensible affirmation of emunah is, in fact, a denial of humanity, of the grandeur of human free-will and that this denial of humanity is the precise heresy of Esav and Amalek as well. Esav/ Amalek is a mumar because of believing that all is in the Hands of Heaven, there is no â€œexcept etc.â€ Amalek maintains that all of the evil that he does is, chalilah, the Will of G-d, that absent HaShemâ€™s Will he would never have been able to have done it. Â Superficially, it is almost as if Amalek accords greater honor to HaShem than Kâ€™lal Yisrael does.Â The stance of Amalek-Esav is that HaShemâ€™s control and authority is absolute.Â They deny that humanity has any autonomy at all.
As one great 20th century thinker put it, when our sages taught that Amalek is â€œone who knows his master and intends to rebel against Himâ€ they donâ€™t mean that Amalek intends to rebel against HaShem in spite of knowing Â that HaShem is their Master, but because of knowing Â that HaShem is their Master; that their rebellion consists of knowing that HaShemâ€™s mastery over them is absolute.Â There is no wiggle room.Â Not one small space, albeit a tiny one, for human independence, autonomy and free choice.
We can now resolve the apparent contradiction between the dissimilar tactics of war employed to battle the Egyptians and Amalek.Â When the enemy rides under the banner of â€œnot everything is in the Hands of Heavenâ€ then the Jewish response must be to emphasize HaShemâ€™s control.Â Against the Egyptians it wouldâ€™ve been out of place for the Jews to highlight and emphasize human free-will.Â Free-will, AKA â€œthe awe of heavenâ€, human avodas HaShem, is best exemplified through prayer; the â€œservice of the heartâ€(Taâ€™anis 2A). So they silenced their prayers, eliminating their part in the “division of labor” and HaShemÂ took total control of the battle. All, absolutely everything, was in His Hands.
But when the enemy rides under the banner of â€œALL is in the Hands of Heaven with no exceptionsâ€ and that human free-will is a sham, then the proper Jewish response is to exercise our free-will. Human free-will is best exemplified through our service of the heart , our avodas hatefilah.Â And so, during milchemes Amalek when Moshe would raise his arms in prayer the Jewish warriors would advance.Â When his prayers faltered IE when his arms grew weak so would the Jews military efforts.Â
~adapted from Mei Hashiloach Beshalach Dâ€H HaShem yilachem