Hands Of Victory
By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parsha of Beshalach opens with what was a high point for man, the freeing of the Jews from bondage, enabling the formation of Am Yisroel. Tragically, however, a few pesukim later, we read about how the Bnei Yisroel complained, “Hamibli ein kevorim b’Mitzrayim,” once again doubting Moshe Rabbeinu and expressing their wish to return to a state of servitude.
After overcoming that low point, they returned to their position of greatness and recited Oz Yoshir, indicating that they had attained a most lofty moment for man. After seeing all that Hashem had done, they finally recognized His greatness and sang shirah.
At Krias Yam Suf, everything became evident to everyone at the same time. Describing the song, the Torah uses the singular tense of the word shir, to sing. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh remarks that the posuk states, “Ashira, Iwill sing,” because, at that moment, there was no peirud between the multitudes of people who had traversed the Yam Suf.
Perhaps we can explain that since it was a time of shirah and shleimus, there were no divisions between the Jews. There was total achdus. Achdus is the state of shleimus.
Referring to the day of the ultimate revelation, Chazal (Ta’anis 31, Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:23, et al),state, “Osid Hakadosh Boruch Hu la’asos machol latzaddikim… Hakadosh Boruch Hu will form a large circle comprised of all the tzaddikim from throughout the generations. They will all dance before Him in a circle and point and declare, ‘Zeh Hashem kivinu lo...’”
Meforshim explain that the tzaddikim will be gathered in a circle to sing Hashem’s praises, because at the time of shirah, unadulterated thanksgiving, the individual ceases to exist. There is no me or you. Instead, there is completesubservience to the subject of the shirah. There is complete hoda’ah to Hashem. In a circle, every person is equidistant from the center-point. There are no lines of demarcation, as all are united in appreciation of Hashem and His glory.
At weddings, we witness something akin to this, as the chosson and the kallah, or their parents and grandparents, sit in the middle of a circle, with generations of offspring dancing around them. The dance is a portrayal of reverence, regardless of station or prestige. All in the circle - children drawn together to pay tribute to their father, chaveirim to a friend, or siblings to a brother or sister - are the same.
That circle oftzaddikim will reflect the ma’amad of Krias Yam Suf. On that date soon to come, the tzaddikim will point and say, “Zeh Hashem,” much the same as their predecessors at the Yam Suf proclaimed, “Zeh Keili.”
The moment before Oz Yoshir was when everything came together. These same Bnei Yisroel, who just a few pesukim earlier had actually been complaining about being redeemed, and who doubted, grumbled and expressed a wish to return to servitude, suddenly simultaneously realized Hashem’sgreatness and total dominion over every facet of creation. At Krias Yam Suf, they finally saw and understood the glory of Hashem.
Taking this a step further, we can answer a question raised by Chazal in the Medrash and in the Zohar. They question why the Torah uses the term shirah to describe Oz Yoshir. Shirah is lashon nekeivah. Shir is lashon zochor and would have been more appropriate.
Perhaps we can explain that the Bnei Yisroel at Krias Yam Suf perceived that they were the ultimate recipients of the Ultimate Giver. In seforim, the appellation for one who receives is “bechinas nukva.” Through the use of lashon nekeivah, the Torah signifies that at that moment, the Bnei Yisroel recognized themselves as recipients. It was this realization and appreciation that enabled them to rise to the level of proclaiming the ultimate shirah and allowed them the zechus to sing the enduring song of creation, which we repeat in perpetuity.
Rav Avidgor Miller would often remark that we mistakenly assume that tefillah is for lofty or important things, like parnossah, health or a good shidduch. “But if you realize that we have nothing, that we are nothing without Hashem’s will and kindness,” he would say, “you know that before you walk into a shoe store, you should say, ‘Yehi ratzon that I should find a nice, comfortable pair of shoes at a good price.’”
That is what it means to be bechinas nukva, aware that we have nothing but His mercy.
Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, a master ofemunah and bitachon, whose messages of faith sustained the Mirrer Yeshiva in its darkest hours, was said to derive his inspiration from reciting the shirah each morning. Talmidim relate that before reciting Oz Yoshir, he would prepare himself as he did for Shema or Shemoneh Esrei, realizing that he was entering a new dimension in avodah.
This Shabbos, after the entire shul rises to hear the shirah read with its unique, festive ta’amim, the kriah continues with yet another central moment in our history. Klal Yisroel, a nascent nation, is confronted by Amaleik. We read about Moshe Rabbeinu raising his hands, inspiring his people to victory. When he lowers his hands, the Bnei Yisroel begin to falter. This story is written as a timeless lesson. Hashem tells Moshe, “Kesov zos baseifer ki macho emcheh es zecher Amaleik - Write this down and write thatthe milchomah will endure, milchomah laHashem b’Amaleik midor dor.”
Rashi and the Ramban quote the Medrash (Tanchumah, Teitzei 11) where Chazal teach that the existence of Amaleik prevents theKisei Hakavod from being whole and renders Hashem’s Name incomplete.
We have to understand, that since Amaleik has such a corrosive influence, why allow him to exist and battle him in every generation. Why keep him around? Why not just finish him off, once and for all?
Perhaps the reason Amaleik is permitted to exist is that, as the Yidden saw on the banks of the Yam Suf, our lot is not to live within perfection, but, rather, to create perfection within what is given.
The path of our nation has always been strewn with obstacles. We have always traversed a road replete with hills and valleys, peaks and drops. We are the people who went from intense labor to witnessing the glory of Hashem, seeing makkos wreak havoc on the lives of our captors. We went from the appearance of Moshe, who promised to save us, to an increased workload, followed by the bringing of the Korban Pesach in defiance of our brutal hosts and, finally, baking matzos and walking to freedom.
And then, in the hot desert, our longing for a return to Mitzrayim was shortly followed by a moment of shirah, when everything became clear. The Bnei Yisroel saw their past, present and futures merge into a seamless song.
And then, against the backdrop of lucidity, came Amaleik.
Amaleik is a reminder that we can never be at peace. We can never rest. We can never think that our jobs are complete and that we can retire. We can never believe that we have overcome every possible trial. Al taamin be’atzmecho ad yom mos’cha.
The existence of Amaleik reminds us that there are always challenges ahead and that we must be prepared for them. There will always be issues that weren’t previously imagined, which will crop up in our day, just as there were challenges back when the Jews were on their way to the land of their dreams. When problems arise, we cannot despair and give in to the urge to say that all is lost and be resigned to an unfortunate fate.
Until the arrival of Moshiach, there will be ups and downs. There will be periods of intense joy and times of dreadful sadness. There will be birth and death, weddings and divorces, employment and unemployment. We must never grow despondent and we must never say that times will not get better. We must never be lulled into thinking that things happen without reason. We must never become depressed, thinking that we are alone.
The hills of life are gifts provided to us to regain our strength, injecting us with energy and stamina to propel us out of the inevitable valleys.
Today, we don’t see Amaleik as we once did, but his seeds are ever-present. Amaleik is the voice that counsels compromise and advises us to be calmer about our beliefs. The modern-day adaptation of Amaleik’s credo of “Asher korcha baderech” declares to people, “Have no fear. Chill out! You don’t really have to listen. You don’t have to respect Klal Yisroel.”
The scoffers have changed their language and dress, but their goal remains the same. The Vilna Gaon taught that the baalei machlokes are Amaleikim. Rav Elchonon Wasserman said the same thing about the secular Zionists.
The Gaon was referring to those who upset the communal equilibrium. Instead of allowing people to follow their proper leaders, a tough guy, or demagogue, or wordsmith, arises and preaches that disagreements are healthy. They convince people to battle someone who did or said something inconsequential with which they disagree and cause division amongst our people and derision of the good. The Gaon says that such people are the progeny of Amaleik.
Jews are naturally a believing people. The Zionists took advantage of our inbred beliefs and transformed belief in G-d into belief in country, belief in Torah into belief in socialism, and belief in the supremacy of talmidei chachomim and mental giants into worship of those who work by the sweat of their brow tilling the land and shooting enemies. They rejected the traditional belief of a Yid who viewed himself as a bechinas nukvah, being a mekabel from Hashem, and embraced the image of a hardened, muscular body builder who espouses kochi ve’otzem yodi asu li es hachayil hazeh.
They present an attractive but inaccurate picture. Our strength lies in our siddurim, Tehillims and seforim, not in yedei Eisov. Our confidence comes from our relationship with Hashem, not from a well-stocked weapons arsenal.
A talmid of Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim was driving the rosh yeshiva, Rav Moshe Feinstein, home from yeshiva when they encountered a rally blocking the street. Several youths were carrying signs that proclaimed, “Never Again!” Their message was that Jews would never again be victims and in the future would defend themselves from all enemies. Rav Moshe grew agitated, telling his driver that the slogan and the sentiments it represented were wrong. A Yid, he said,has a destiny mapped out by our Creator, not by generals or politicians, and we live, die and exist by His will.
Most writers and historians play up the image of the Jew in the ghettos and concentration camps as feeble and pathetic, submitting to their Nazi oppressors with nary a whimper. Yet, reading the accounts of Moshe Prager or the halachic shailos posed to Rav Oshry, the Veitzener Rov and others during the war years, causes one to be awed by the heroism of these individuals. Books by religious writers depicting the Holocaust era leave the reader astonished by the indomitable spirit of these Yidden. You are amazed, knowing that the Jews were stronger than any Nazi beast. Part of that strength was an acceptance of Hashem’s will, plan and design.
Similarly, books of lore depicting the modern-day settlement of Eretz Yisroel typically gloss over the First Aliya and concentrate on the Second Aliyah. This is because those who made up the first were largely religious and did not fit the narrative that the Secular Zionists sought to inculcate. The Second Aliyah immigrants were largely irreligious, or worse, and their Aliyah had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with nationalism.
What kept the early immigrants of the First Aliyah going in the face of what seemed to be insurmountable hardships? Sam Finkel in his new, exceptional book, “Rebels in the Holy Land,” quotes Avrohom Yaakov Gellman, who arrived in Eretz Yisroel in 1882. “Many difficult and terrible hardships befell us. So many people died… So many men and women became blind… because the air of this locale was unhealthy [and because of disease-carrying flies]. We could barely sleep at night without evading the malarial fever that struck us. We literally put our lives at risk. Through our efforts, we have improved the air quality of the settlement, but at the cost of the lives of our dear ones and with such pain and anguish.”
So how did they do it? “They coped and managed because they believed that they were the shelichim fulfilling a holy commandment.”
That is the true strength of the Jewish people; reflected in the Yad Hachazokah of the Rambam, not in the clenched fist of kochi veotzem yodi.
Today, in the city with the largest Jewish population, in the hub of American democracy, Amaleik mocks our mesorah and portrays our traditions as archaic. The mayor and his defenders who embody “asher korcha” pour cold water on the enthusiasm with which every bris milah is still greeted and performed. Professing concern for our welfare, they vilify us using legalist and modern dignified language.
There are politicians who claim to be defenders of Israel, yet they accept overnight conversions from people who hate us. They enable our sworn enemies to attain positions in which they can act upon their animus of Jews and their state, all for political convenience.
At the conclusion of the parsha (17:11),as we battled the biblical Amaleik, Moshe Rabbeinu raised his hands, telling us to be strong, to stand tall and proud, and not to be buffeted by the prevailing winds. When Moshe’s hands were raised, the Jews were victorious, but when they were lowered, the Jews began to lose.
The only way to effectively battle Amaleik is by the Moshe of the generation raising his hands as a lighthouse for all to follow to safe shores and not become entrapped by the guile, demagoguery and sweet words with which the progeny of our most bitter enemy attempt to lead people away from Hashem.
We must maintain our fidelity to the truth, to Hashem, to Torah, and to the Moshe who raises his hands high and does not succumb to the pressures of the time.
The Torah (17:12) informs us that Moshe is not able to do it on his own. He requires help. The posuk depicts Aharon and Chur standing alongside Moshe, supporting him and his weary uplifted arms, “mizeh echod, umizeh echod.” The task is great, even for Moshe.
Perhaps the heroes of the account with Amaleik are Aharon and Chur. Rather than fatalistically concluding that the Jewish people must be realistic and recognize that they were destined to lose against a much stronger foe, and instead of saying that Amaleik is too strong an enemy for them and that there is no point in fighting on, they grasped Moshe’s arms and helped wave them aloft, proclaiming, and bringing about, victory.
Today, too, the heroes are those who stand at the side of mesorah and gedolei Yisroel, unafraid and undaunted, givingchizuk to all that’s right and good.
There is a plan, and it has almost finished unfolding.
Each day, during Shacharis, when we conclude the recitation of the shirah, we add three pesukim that are not part of that timeless song. First we say, “Ki laShem hameluchah umoshel bagoyim.” Then we add, “Ve’alu moshi’im beHar Tzion,”and we conclude, “Bayom hahu yihiyeh Hashem echod ushemo echod.”
Rav Moshe Shapiro explains that we add these pesukim because at the time of shirah everything becomes clear. We perceive Hashem’splan for us. We recognize our destiny and that there is a mehalech throughout history. That destiny, our path, is expressed in these pesukim.
First, ki laShem hameluchah. His Divine desire and will for a universe and people to serve him was the catalyst for brias ha’olam.
The second posuk refers to our task from the time that tov and ra first confronted each other to continue fighting for kevod Shomayim and climb to the top of Eisov’s mountain and claim the world as ours, victorious.
And then, the final posuk, “Bayom hahu, on that day, Hashem will be one.”
May we soon ascend Eisov’s mountain, completing the mission. May we merit seeing and being part of that glorious circle, singing as one, “Zeh Hashem kivinu lo.”