Parashat Beshalach – Erev Shabbat 7 February 2020
Week of 2-8 February 2019
Torah portion: Exodus 13:17-17:16
Theme: War with Amalek
I have to confess that through my theology studies I have become a bit of an expert of the last section in today’s parashah: war with Amalek (Exod 17:8-16). So I could not miss this opportunity to reflect on it here.
The story about the war with Amalek is a story of how God’s people should face their enemy. In this case the enemy is straight forward: a fairly obscure people (though Gen 36:12 lists them among Israel’s relatives) who attack Israel without any apparent reason or provocation. The responsibility of handling this situation falls on Moses. However, his response is nothing like the one at the crossing of the Sea (Exod 14:15-31). This time there is no explicit prayer of Moses and no direct commands or deeds on God’s part. At the Sea, God fights the enemy and Moses acts as his apprentice. At Rephidim, the name of God is not heard until well after the battle, there is no apparent prayer and, most particularly, Moses does not handle this situation on his own. Sharing responsibility of dealing with this community crisis is the very core of the story about the war with Amalek.
In the Bible we see this sharing of leadership in several details: Moses approaches Joshua to ask for help, Joshua chooses “men”, Aaron and Hur support Moses during the battle. The Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael, the earliest compilation of rabbinic commentary on Exodus, also emphasises this sharing of the community leadership. Commenting on Moses’ words to Joshua “Choose us men” (Exod 17:9), the Mekhilta comments: “From this it is evident that Moses treated Joshua as his equal.” (Lauterbach, 257) According to the Mekhilta, Aaron and Hur helped Moses not only physically supporting him, but also evoking the “deeds of the fathers and the deeds of the mothers.” (Lauterbach, 259f.) As the Mekhilta points out, this act of the community working together is reminded in the liturgy of fast days when the community “should have no less than three people passing to the front of the ark to read the prayers.” (Lauterbach, 260f.)
Moses, Joshua, Aaron and Hur had to work together to win the war with Amalek. But at the end of the story God reveals that He is in charge after all: “I will surely blot out the remembrance of Amalek.” (Exod 17:14) The battle with Amalek is not as spectacular as the victory over the Egyptians and there is not even a victory song after it. The Israelites seem to be growing up and their world is changing. However, this story affirms that despite it all God is always present and in charge, even if sometimes we cannot see it.
For Reflection and Discussion:  Reflect on similarities and differences between the battle at the Sea and the battle with Amalek.  Discuss God’s direct intervention in this world and his less obvious presence.
Bibliography: Lauterbach, J. Z. Mekhilta De-Rabbi Ishmael (Philadelphia: 2004)