Parshat Beshalach

Posted on July 21, 2008

In parshat Beshalach, we read about the first war fought by the Jews after leaving Egypt.  Specifically, In chapter 17, verse 8, the Torah says, “And Amalek came and battled Israel in Rephidim.”  In response to this unprovoked attack, Moshe told Yehoshua to choose men and go out and fight Amalek while he stood on the top of the hill with the staff of Hashem in his hand.  The Torah continues to say that Yehoshua did all that Moshe said and he fought against Amalek. Moshe, on the other hand, went up to the top of the hill.  The Torah then states, in verse 11, “Vehaya kaasher yarim Moshe yado vegavar Yisrael, vekaasher yaniyach yado vegavar Amalek” – “When Moshe held up his hand, Israel prevailed and when he put down his hand Amalek prevailed”.

There is a famous mishnah in Mesechet Rosh Hashanah that questions this pasuk.  It asks, “Vechi yado shel Moshe osot milchamah oh shovrot milchama” – Do the hands of Moshe really win a battle or lose a battle?  Certainly not. Rather, the verse comes to teach us that so long as Israel looked upward and subjugated their hearts to Hashem, they prevailed.  The hands of Moshe were solely meant to help B’nei Yisrael to focus on the fact that Hashem is the ruler of the world and that He alone is all-powerful and responsible for what happens in this world.

However, Moshe’s instruction to Yehoshua was meant to teach an additional lesson as well.  Yehoshua was instructed to pick men and to go out and fight against Amalek.  As the Siftei Chachamim explains, Yehoshua was commanded to choose carefully who would fight and Yehoshua was successful in weakening Amalek through fighting (Shemot 17:13). Through his instruction then, Moshe was teaching the lesson of “hishtadlut” – the responsibility of each person to do his utmost with natural means.  While all that happens in this world is ultimately predicated on “ratzon Hashem” – the will of G-d – we cannot sit idly by. Rather, we have the responsibility and obligation to strive for the desired result. If we put forth effort with the recognition and understanding that everything is from G-d, we will surely succeed.