Bnei Yisrael had experienced an entire year of the most incredible miracles any human being would ever experience in their lifetime. And as they begin their journey to Eretz Yisrael, they encounter their first battle, with the only nation who is unafraid to attack: Amalek.
And we know the story: Moshe tells Yehoshua to gather an army and go fight Amalek while Moshe sits on the mountain, inspiring the people with his hands raised heavenwards.
I want to ask 3 questions:
1) The medrash shares that the rest of world was TERRIFIED of attacking Am Yisrael at this time, and only Amalek was not. Why weren’t they afraid of attacking the Am Hashem after all they had heard about Yetzias Mitzrayim?
2) When Bnei Yisrael go to battle, typically the King goes in front, leading us into battle. Why doesn’t Moshe lead the people into battle? Why does he send Yehoshua?
3) This battle is clearly significant in the eyes of Hashem. It is so significant that HKBH declares that in future generations we must destroy Amalek. Why, then, does Hashem allow us to fight this war with Amalek as a totally natural, regular battle? We have so many instances where Hashem creates miracles in battle throughout Tanach, and certainly with Egypt. Why doesn’t He defeat Amalek handily, with a miracle, in this case?
I want to share with you an explanation of Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon, Rav of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, Alon Shvut Darom, and Rosh Kollel at Yeshivat Har Etzion.
There is a medrash: The medrash in the Mechilta D’Rashbi writes that it would be impossible that Moshe would stand back and do nothing and just send Yehoshua in his place. Rather, we have a mesorah, that the children of Eisav will only be defeated by the children of Rachel, and Yehoshua is from the tribe of Ephraim, the son of Yosef.
But what does that mean? Why?
Explains Rav Rimon, the answer to all of these questions lies in the fundamental nature of Amalek. As we know, the central tenet of the ideology of Amalek is “Asher Karcha BaDerech”, they just Happened Upon Am Yisrael. Amalek believes that there is no Creator who controls the happenings in the world. Rather, the world is a place of MIKRE, random events orchestrated by NO ONE.
Amalek sees Krias Yam Suf and says, “yeah, but maybe there was a really strong wind at JUST THE RIGHT TIME!” The ten plagues were aberrations of nature that took down the Egyptians, which was great luck for the Jews.
No matter what Amalek sees happening around them, they declare it all as natural phenomena.
And the children of Rachel, and Yosef in particular, have just the OPPOSITE APPROACH. For Yosef, EVERYTHING in his life occurs because it is what HKBH has planned for him.
From his first days in Potiphar’s house, the Torah tells us he notices that God is with Yosef. How does he know? Rashi explains: “Shem Shamayim Shagur B’Fiv”. It must be that Yosef would mention Gd all the time. Otherwise how would Potiphar connect his success to Hashem.
When Yosef is given ONE SHOT to come before Pharaoh, and Pharoah says, Yosef, I need your help to interpret my dreams, how does Yosef respond?
(טז) ]וַיַּעַן יוֹסֵף אֶת פַּרְעֹה לֵאמֹר[ בִּלְעָדָי אֱלֹהִים יַעֲנֶה אֶת שְׁלוֹם פַּרְעֹה:
This isn’t me! G-d will offer an answer for Pharaoh.
When he reveals himself to his brothers, Yosef tells them:
(ה) וְעַתָּה אַל תֵּעָצְבוּ וְאַל יִחַר בְּעֵינֵיכֶם כִּי מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה כִּי לְמִחְיָה שְׁלָחַנִי אֱלֹהִים לִפְנֵיכֶם:
Don’t worry, don’t be sad that you sold me here. Because Hashem sent me here to provide for the family!
With everything thing that HAPPENS to Yosef, he finds the ability to see the Yad Hashem, the hand of HKBH placing him in that position.
And Yosef doesn’t just remain steadfast in his belief that the events in his life, he has an impact on those around him. As Pharaoh himself exclaims: “Have you ever seen a person SheRuach Elokim Bo! A Man of God!”
With this explanation, we have the answer to our questions:
1) Why was Amalek the only nation who wasn’t afraid to fight Am Yisrael? Because the other nations saw the Yad Hashem, they saw that Hashem was pulling the strings in the entire experience of Yetzias Mitzrayim. Amalek’s essence is to DENY even the most overt examples of hashgacha pratis. There was NO MIRACLE, NO EVIDENCE of Hashem’s hand in the world that would convince them.
2) Why is it SPECIFICALLY the children of Yosef, namely Yehoshua, who is tasked with fighting Amalek? Because while Amalek’s ENTIRE GOAL is to show the world that there IS NO GD. It is Yosef’s lifework to bring that AWARENESS of Hashem to the world.
Rav Rimon also points out so poignantly that so many years later, when Amalek emerges once again in the story of Purim, with the rise of Haman, it is no surprise that there is another descendant of Rachel, Mordechai from the tribe of Binyamin, who is tasked with fighting him back.
And after all, the entire story of Purim, a story in which God is never mentioned and remains hidden at all times, is a struggle over just this question:
Haman casts LOTS, PURIM, to determine on which RANDOM day he will destroy Am Yisrael.
- And it is Mordechai who stands up and says, there is nothing Random about the world or about our future as a people. As he tells Esther, “If you don’t stand up for us, don’t you worry, HKBH will find His own way to save us.”
Once again, a story of the children of Rachel who are the ultimate foil to Amalek, the son of Esav.
And this also explains the answer to our last question: Why is the war with Amalek a NATURAL WAR? Why doesn’t Hashem destroy them with a miracle?
And the answer, of course, is that the entire battle with Amalek is about teaching the world to see Hashem’s hand NOT ONLY IN THE MIRACULOUS, BUT EVEN IN WHAT WE CALL NATURE. So, it is SPECIFICALLY in a natural, otherwise “regular” war, that Bnei Yisrael must defeat Amalek. Proving once again that HKBH can be found EVERYWHERE.
Rav Rimon makes on last comment that I thought was so pretty and ties this all together: When we speak about which cities read the megillah on what we call Shushan Purim, we say it is cities that had a wall B’Yimos Yehoshua Bin Nun. Such a strange thing?! After all, Yehoshua lives hundreds of years before the story of Purim. What does Yehoshua have to do with Shushan Purim!?
But now we understand: Because Mordechai & Yehoshua fought the same battle with Amalek! And if anything, in Yehoshua’s battle, there is a small sign of what can happen when we know who is really in control:
(יא) וְהָיָה כַּאֲשֶׁר יָרִים מֹשֶׁה יָדוֹ וְגָבַר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְכַאֲשֶׁר יָנִיחַ יָדוֹ וְגָבַר עֲמָלֵק:
The Torah tells us that when Moshe raised his hands Bnei Yisrael would be successful. And when they went down, Amalek would be winning.
Says the medrash:
Moshe’s hands didn’t make miracles. Rather, when the people saw his hands, it reminded them that HKBH was with them, it reminded them who is really in charge, and in that zechus, in that merit, Hashem, indeed, took control.
It is the battle that Yehoshua fought so many generations earlier, that was the inspiration for Am Yisrael in the future, led by Mordechai, to teach that same lesson to the world once again. That even in a world that can feel at times left on its own, a world that feels it is without a conductor, we all have the ability to see just how involved He is every day of our lives.