Do current Israeli leaders offer adequate protection for the Jewish lives they are entrusted with? Is their policy direction leading toward greater or lesser security?
We read (Shemot 17:12) that when the Jewish people were attacked by the Amalekites shortly after their departure from Egypt and Moshe raised his hands in supplication to God for victory, his hands were “heavy.”
Rashi comments that “his hands became heavy because he had been lax in the mitzvah [of battling Israel’s foes] and had appointed another one [Yehoshua] in his stead.”
Since Moshe’s old age did not affect his physical strength, we know that wasn’t why his hands grew heavy. But why ascribe it to laziness? Perhaps because he postponed the battle to the following day, or maybe because of the people’s doubting of God’s power when they asked (Shemot 17:6), “Is then God in our midst?”
We can assume that Moshe must have had good reason for appointing Yehoshua to fight this battle, since we know that on other occasions Moshe was ready and willing to lead Israel’s wars from the forefront, as he did, at age 120, in the battle against King Og (Bamidbar 21:34, Devarim 3:2).
So what could his good reason have been? Moshe reasoned that there was a big difference between this battle against Amalek and the war against Og: the latter was miraculous, with God having stated openly that “you shall do unto him as you have done against Sichon; do not fear him.”
The same applied to the splitting of the Red Sea. In such clearly miraculous situations, Moshe reasoned that nothing could stand in the way of victory and that therefore the usual norms for warfare (strong young soldiers) were not necessary and even a 120-year-old man could lead the way.
At the time of the battle against Amalek, however, the Jews had displeased God, so Moshe reckoned that this particular fight had to conform to the usual norms of warfare – relying on young, strong warriors and refusing to rush into battle without adequate preparation (therefore Rashi can’t accept that Moshe was being faulted for postponing the battle by one day).
In Rashi’s final analysis, however, Moshe did err: If the premise is that God had commanded this battle to take place (even though the verse states that Moshe, rather than God, commanded Yehoshua to fight Amalek), Moshe should have led the battle himself, offering a short prayer on the battlefield to secure God’s help, notwithstanding whatever the Jews may have been guilty of.
If God commands, one has to act with alacrity.
On the other hand, the premise might be that Moshe acted on his own based on the strength of simple reasoning: a Jewish leader does not stand idly by while his people are being attacked. That could explain why Moshe reasoned that a battle not commanded by God had to be fought according to normal conventions – conventions that don’t see old men on the battlefield.
But even then, Moshe erred: When the Jewish people have to be protected from their enemies, the battle against those enemies becomes in and of itself the greatest mitzvah and it is as if a Divine command had expressly gone out to fight such a battle.
Along with proceeding according to the tactics of normal warfare, one is also assured of victory associated with fulfilling this great mitzvah (to wit: the Six-Day War). There is therefore a limit to the tactical “calculations” a leader directing this action must make. He has to lead by being there personally, both on the fighting end and the praying end. Thus, Rashi is correct: Moshe was at fault in not being involved personally – so, measure for measure, his hands grew lazy and heavy.
About the Author: Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic is the spiritual leader of Cong. Ahavath Zion (www.ahavathzion.com) in Maplewood, New Jersey. His articles on Jewish philosophy and chassidus have appeared in various publications. Comments from readers can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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