Parshas Beshalach begins with Krias Yam Suf (The Splitting of the Red Sea), continues with the beginning of Bnei Yisrael’s travels in the desert, and closes with the war with Amalek. As I mention every year, this parshah contains a plethora of topics to write on and narrowing down the topic is never easy. This year, I have decided to talk about the war with Amalek.
As Amalek appeared ready for battle, Moshe began making preparations. “וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֶל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בְּחַר לָנוּ אֲנָשִׁים וְצֵא הִלָּחֵם בַּעֲמָלֵק” “And Moshe said to Yehoshua, ‘Pick men for us, and go out and fight against Amalek” (Shemos 17:9). Moshe tells his student, Yehoshua, to lead the army against Amalek while he will go to the top of the mountain and pray for their success. On the surface, this appears to be very strange. As great as Yehoshua was, and as close as Moshe’s connection was to Hashem, wouldn’t it make more sense for Moshe to lead the army on the battlefield? From a morale perspective, it would definitely make the nation feel better to see their leader leading the charge. And from a Torah perspective, these soldiers Yehoshua had to pick were not simple people. In the times of Tanach, only the most righteous individuals were picked to fight in battle. So would it not make more sense for the most righteous person in the generation, Moshe, to lead them?
The Meforshim discuss this question and give a few different answers.
The Ohr HaChaim explains that in the desert, Bnei Yisrael were constantly protected by the Clouds of Glory; nothing could get in or out without Hashem allowing it. The reason Amalek were able to attack Bnei Yisrael was because they had not spent time studying and examining the Torah and mitzvos that had been given to them thus far. (They had been given a few mitzvos before they received the entire Torah at Har Sinai.) There is a pasuk in Parshas Ki Sisa which states, “יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן נַעַר לֹא יָמִישׁ מִתּוֹךְ הָאֹהֶל” “Yehoshua Bin Nun, a lad, did not depart from the tent” (33:11). The Ohr HaChaim explains that this means that Yehoshua would stay in the Beis Medrash after Moshe had finished teaching, in order to review what he had learned and study further. This extra dedication to Torah learning is exactly what Bnei Yisrael needed in order to defeat Amalek. Therefore, Yehoshua led the charge. (Just to be clear, this does not mean that Moshe or Aharon did not stay longer to study Torah as well. Just that this point was Yehoshua’s calling card.)
The Ramban explains that while Moshe may not have been leading on the physical field of battle, he was the leader on the spiritual field. When Moshe went to the top of the mountain to daven for success in battle, the people who had remained behind observed him and followed his lead. His prayers spurred them on to pray with a strong intensity so that they should succeed. The Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah (29b) explains that when Moshe raised his hands in prayer, the entire nation prayed as well, lifting up and supporting the entire army in battle. As great as Moshe could have been leading the army, his true strength was in leading the people in pure spiritual matters (the battle was a spiritual matter as well) and guiding them to higher spiritual levels.
These explanations seem to contradict a Rashi found in Pasuk 11. The pasuk says that Moshe’s hands became tired and he could no longer pray with the same intensity. Rashi explains that this happened since he allowed Yehoshua to lead the army instead of doing the mitzvah himself. According to how we’ve explained, however, Moshe was right to let Yehoshua lead! The Sifsei Chachamim explains that while Yehoshua was the right man to lead the army into battle, Moshe should have been the one to select the soldiers. By passing this duty on to Yehoshua, Moshe gave up on a mitzvah and weakened himself and the entire nation in the process.
Learning Tanach and observing the figures of our early history, it is hard for us to get a clear picture of who our ancestors truly were and what level they were on. Using the answer of the Ramban, we get a little more insight into Moshe, perhaps the greatest man who ever lived. We see from this story how Moshe’s power of prayer was so strong, he was able to inspire all those around him to greater spiritual heights. Nowadays as well, we should seek out teachers and guides who help us achieve this same thing. It was not a coincidence that Moshe had this ability and was the leader of the nation, as obtaining a greater connection with Hashem is our true purpose and what we strive for each day.
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