web analytics
July 8, 2015 / 21 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Looking Up

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

The Israelites had crossed the Red Sea. The impossible had happened. The mightiest army in the ancient world – the Egyptians with their horse-drawn chariots – had been defeated and drowned. The people were now free. But the relief proved short-lived. Almost immediately they faced attack by the Amalekites, and they had to fight a battle, this time with no apparent miracles from God. They did so and won. This was a decisive turning point in history, not only for the Israelites but also for Moses and his leadership of the people.

The contrast between before and after the Red Sea could not be more complete. Before, facing the approaching Egyptians, Moses said to the people: “Stand still and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today … The Lord will fight for you; you need only be silent” (Exodus 14:13). In other words, do nothing. God will do it for you. And He did.

In the case of the Amalekites, however, Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us, and prepare for battle against Amalek” (Exodus 17:9). Joshua did so and the people waged war. This was the great transition from a situation in which the leader (with the help of God) does it for the people, to one in which the leader empowers the people to do it for themselves.

As this was happening, the Torah focuses our attention on one detail. As the battle began Moses climbed to the top of a hill overlooking the battlefield, with a staff in his hand:

“As long as Moses held his hands up, the Israelites prevailed, but when he let his hands down, the Amalekites prevailed. When Moses’s hands became weary, they took a stone and placed it under him, so that he would be able to sit on it. Aaron and Chur then held his hands, one on each side, and his hands remained steady until sunset” (Exodus 17: 11-12).

What is going on here? The passage could be read in two ways. The staff in Moses’s hand – with which he had performed miracles in Egypt and at the sea – might be a sign that the Israelites’ victory was a miraculous one. Alternatively, it might simply be a reminder to the Israelites that God was with them, giving them strength.

Very unusually – since the Mishnah in general is a book of law rather than biblical commentary – a Mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashanah resolves the question:

“Did the hands of Moses make or break [the course of the] war? Rather, the text implies that whenever the Israelites looked up and dedicated their hearts to their father in heaven, they prevailed. But otherwise they fell.”

The Mishnah is clear. Neither the staff nor Moses’s upraised hands were performing a miracle. They were simply reminding the Israelites to look up to heaven and remember that God was with them. This gave them the confidence and courage to win.

A fundamental principle of leadership is being taught here. A leader must empower the team. He cannot do the work for them. They must do it for themselves. But he must, at the same time, give them the absolute confidence that they can do it and succeed. He is responsible for their mood and morale. During the battle he must betray no sign of weakness, doubt or fear. That is not always easy. Moses’s hands “became weary.” All leaders have their moments of exhaustion. At such times the leader needs support – even Moses needed the help of Aaron and Chur. In the end, though, his upraised hands were the sign the Israelites needed that God was giving them the strength to prevail. And they did.

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “Looking Up”

  1. Good read, Rabbi. I'm often the fly in the bottle myself. I miss so much by not looking up. And when you're always looking down, you're more likely to get mugged.

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Yeshiva boys learn Torah together at Beit Midrash Derech Chaim.  Due to their participation in a pre-army intelligence program, the IDF requires their identities to remain secret.
Exclusive: First IDF Cyber-Defense Program Opens at Yeshiva
Latest Judaism Stories
17th_of_Tammuz_(medium)_(english)

17th of Tammuz: Beginning 3 weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Avi Weiss

With Ruth, The Torah seems to be stating that children shouldn’t be punished for the sins of parents

Neihaus-070315

Without a foundation, one cannot hope to build a structure.

Torat-Hakehillah-logo-NEW

Why do we have a parsha in Sefer Shemos named after Yisro who was not only a former idolater, but actually served as a priest for Avodah Zarah!

Question: Should we wash our hands in the bathroom with soap and water, or by pouring water from a vessel with handles three times, alternating hands? I have heard it said that a vessel is used only in the morning upon awakening. What are the rules pertaining to young children? What is the protocol if no vessel is available? Additionally, may we dry our hands via an electric dryer?

Harry Koenigsberg
(Via E-Mail)

This Land Is ‘My’ Land
‘[If The Vow Was Imposed] In The Seventh Year…’
(Nedarim 42b)

The Shulchan Aruch in the very first siman states that one should rise in the morning like a lion, implying that simply rising form bed requires strength of a lion, in line with the Midrash.

Attempts to interpret the message of Hashem in the absence of divine prophecy ultimately may twist that message in unintended ways that can lead to calamitous events.

Suddenly, the pilot’s voice could be heard. He explained that this was a special day for those passengers on board who lived in Israel.

If the sick person is thrust into a situation where he is compelled to face his sickness head on, we who are not yet sick can encourage him by facing it with him.

All agree that Jews ARE different. How? Why? The Bible’s answer is surprising and profound.

What’s the nation of Israel’s purpose in the world? How we can bring God’s blessings into the world?

“Is there a difference between rescuing and other services?” asked Ploni.

To my dismay, I’ve seen that shidduch candidates with money become ALL desirable traits for marriage

Bil’am’s character is complex and nuanced; neither purely good nor purely evil.

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

All agree that Jews ARE different. How? Why? The Bible’s answer is surprising and profound.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Of Chukkim “Satan and the nations of the world made fun.” They may appear irrational & superstitious

Heaven answered Moshe dramatically. He was proved right. End of revolt. End of story- Not at all…

There’s no obligation TO wear tzitzit; opting to wear them symbolizes free acceptance of the mitzvot

Sadly, we’re no longer an edah; We’ve fissured and fractured: Orthodox & Reform; religious & secular

The desert, with its unearthly silence & emptiness, is the condition in which the Word can be heard

This week’s parshah inspired the Jubilee 2000 initiative leading to debt cancellation of $34 biilion

Rambam: Eating blood’s forbidden because connected to idolatry;Ramban: We’re affected by what we eat

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/looking-up-2/2014/01/09/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: