|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-MY BROTHER: MENACHEM MENDEL SHLOMO BEN CHAYA ROCHEL
-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
בְּשַׁלַּח ● Beshalach
● Who was Yehoshua? What made him the optimal commander in the army against Amaleik? ●
“The Scholar vs. The Skeptic”
It was not too long after the B’nei Yisrael escaped the clutches of their Egyptian oppressors that they were confronted by yet a new antagonist, Amaleik.1 It was at that point that the B’nei Yisrael engaged in their first war as a nation and at that point in the Torah when we, the readers are first introduced to Moshe Rabbeinu’s greatest disciple and future successor, Yehoshua Bin Nun. Moshe commanded Yehoshua to draft the soldiers and to war with Amaleik, which he ultimately did. And as the account famously goes, the B’nei Yisrael would dominate so long as Moshe’s hands were raised upward, and ultimately Yehoshua would weaken and fend off Amaleik. Based on this episode, Hashem declared that Amaleik’s memory will ultimately be “wiped out from under the heavens.”2
Who was Yehoshua?
Now, the following may sound like a silly question, but who was Yehoshua? It sounds silly because, of course, it is well-known that Yehoshua was Moshe’s student and successor. Indeed though, we know that now in hindsight based on the history that followed this initial scene in our Sidrah. We know Yehoshua mainly because of more famous events and history which occurred later, such as the event of the Miraglim, or the Spies, when we’re told about how Moshe changed the original name Hoshei’a to Yehoshua, and about how Yehoshua was one of the two out of twelve spies who did not slander the Promised Land.3 We know Yehoshua, for instance, because of Yehoshua’s actual succeeding of Moshe which is the backdrop for the first book of the Nevi’im, the Prophets, Sefer Yehoshua, in which Yehoshua would ultimately lead the B’nei Yisrael in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael.
However, from this very first mention of Yehoshua in our Sidrah, one would have little an idea of who he was. The very first time he appears, the Torah simply writes, “Vayomer Moshe El Yehoshua B’char Lanu Anashim Tzei Hilacheim BaAmaleik…”-“And Moshe said to Yehoshua, ‘Choose for us men; go out and battle against Amaleik…’”4—a brief command to this person whom we have, thus far, never heard of. At this point, who was Yehoshua? Was he a war general? That was his job here, but he likely did not always have this role, because after all, Moshe was only telling him now to select men for war, something which was evidently not already done. The B’nei Yisrael had not fought any wars until that point. That means that this man, Yehoshua, was named the army commander then and there. But, who was he? The Torah doesn’t say. Moshe apparently knew who he was—he had to, otherwise, by what merit should Moshe have initiated an exclusive command to him? Clearly, there’s some unrevealed backstory behind Moshe’s familiarity with Yehoshua, but the Torah does not, at any point, formally introduce us to this Yehoshua person.
This point is somewhat troubling, because, as will be evident later in the Torah, and undoubtedly in the Navi, Yehoshua is a quite significant figure. One would have expected the Torah to provide better background to introduce him. Even Avraham Avinu, who receives little of an introduction in the Torah, at least gets his name mentioned in the list of lineage. Yehoshua’s first mention, however, is in the line, “And Moshe said to Yehoshua…” This is not that to suggest that it is not an honorable Zechus or merit of sorts in its own right for Moshe to be talking to him in the first place—but we have no textual basis for Yehoshua’s intrinsic worth and chosenness. He was just there. His presence was apparently assumed. But, why should it have been that way? Why was Yehoshua not formally introduced to us, and why does he get no mention beforehand? Why aren’t we given any background check on him whatsoever?
Another question, really the other side of the same coin in our question, is why Yehoshua was only first mentioned now. If he wasn’t mentioned all this time before, why was he, all of a sudden, Moshe’s assumed “go-to” person at that point? Was there never a need for Yehoshua before that, all of a sudden, he was chosen for the needs of this war with Amaleik? Moreover, could Moshe have asked no one else this favor? Aharon and Chur were apparently busy during the war, holding Moshe’s arms, but there was a nation’s worth of people for Moshe to choose from; Caleiv, Pinchas, and perhaps many others. Why was Yehoshua chosen, and why only then?
Who was Amaleik?
Another figure who really needs to be identified in our Sidrah is Amaleik. Who was, or what is Amaleik? He is considered, by Jewish tradition, particularly in Chassidic literature, to be the root of all evil in the world, but, the Torah itself doesn’t say that much about him. Apparently, he was no fan of the B’nei Yisrael as he attacked them. And apparently, he was a biological descendant of Yaakov Avinu’s brother Eisav5—the Torah does mention him once before in the lineage—but, what else does the Torah say about him? Not much. Similar to our other issue, this point is somewhat troubling because Hashem apparently has a vested interest in wiping out Amaleik’s memory which is a seemingly harsh way to deal with a given individual, considering the little which the Torah reveals about him.
Of course, we would learn later that Amaleik was and perhaps is a significant, recurring antagonist of the B’nei Yisrael, especially in the times of the Navi6, still carrying the divine target on his back. But the question is, given the little information we have in the Torah text, what makes Amaleik the absolute worst and darkest force in the world that he must be entirely expunged from it. Pharaoh was an enemy of the B’nei Yisrael. Mo’av would later try to take out the B’nei Yisrael. The P’lishtim also become a recurring thorn in the side of the B’nei Yisrael. There are many enemy nations. But it is Amaleik whose memory G-d commands that we must obliterate. There is even a command in the Torah to remember the battle with Amaleik in a small passage known as Parshas Zachor.7 But, what is so unique about this Amaleik character and the war with Amaleik that divides him from other enemies of the B’nei Yisrael?
The Greatest Disciple
Although we were perplexed by the idea that the Torah neglected to properly introduce us to Yehoshua, one could suggest very simply that the Torah did not need to provide any such background as the immediate generation receiving the Torah certainly would have already known exactly who Yehoshua was. Everyone then knew who he was because Yehoshua was to become Moshe’s successor and the leader of the B’nei Yisrael. Thus, the Torah could have just said “And Moshe said to Yehoshua…” and the nation would know who is being referenced.
It could even be in this exact vein that the Torah refers to him now as Yehoshua even though the Torah later reveals, as was mentioned earlier, that his name, presumably until the event of the Miraglim, was actually Hoshei’a. The recipients of the finished Torah text likely knew him as their current leader “Yehoshua” so the Torah chose to use the more familiar name Yehoshua at this earlier point.
But again, Yehoshua’s stature and relevance at all is only known and recognizeable after the fact. At this point in time though, to us the possibly uninformed readers of a later generation, the above is merely assumed. Why would the Torah introduce him so nonchalantly, making so light of his presence?
Thus, it seems that the Torah intentionally chose to draw its picture of Yehoshua as such that Yehoshua was identified by his actions themselves. Moreover, he is presented in this casual sort of way, also, because the Torah wanted Yehoshua’s essence to be defined by that sense of “casualness.” What would that essence be though?
While pondering this question, instead of thinking only about what the Torah does not say about him, consider what it is that he Torah does say about Yehoshua.
- “Vayomer Moshe El Yehoshua”
We’ve already established that first mention of Yehoshua is in this simple clause containing a command, an instruction from Moshe. What kind of picture of Yehoshua is the Torah is depicting in the simple words, “And Moshe said to Yehoshua”?
That question can be answered if we think about Yehoshua’s role as we know it today, in hindsight? He was, as was mentioned, the disciple and the successor of Moshe Rabbeinu. Although at first glance, these titles seem to warrant a flashy and fancy “name in lights” sort of introduction, the essence of the truly greatest disciple and befitting successor to the most humble Moshe Rabbeinu would not be accurately reflected in such a fashion. Yehoshua wasn’t born as Moshe’s successor. He started off as nothing more than a student of Moshe’s, a humble protégé and a rising scholar who cared enough to learn. This essence is what made Yehoshua into Moshe’s successor, and it is captured perfectly by the words, “And Moshe said to Yehoshua.”
- “Vaya’as Yehoshua Ka’asheir Amar Lo Moshe”
And Yehoshua’s very second mention, “Vaya’as Yehoshua Ka’asheir Amar Lo Moshe…”-“And Yehoshua did just as Moshe had said to him…”8 likewise, captures Yehoshua in this element. He was humbly doing his job as a student of Moshe’s without questioning the instructions, cynically asserting his own views, or making his own recommendations—putting in his two cents on the matter. He followed the established prophet’s lead. That was all. He didn’t need to speak unless spoken to, or even at all. He was just there—at Moshe’s side, beck and call. His opening moves, in the Torah, are listening, obeying and acting according to his Rebbi’s word. That was Yehoshua’s essence. He was the perfect student—following the footsteps and direction of his teacher and carrying his teacher’s mission forward.
- “Lo Yamish”9—“Lo Yamush”10
That Yehoshua actualized his role of steadfastly following of his Rebbi is evident later in Parshas Ki Sisa, when the Torah tells us that Yehoshua would not “remove himself”—“Lo Yamish”—from Moshes’s tent of study.9 The same expression is utilized again later in Sefer Yehoshua, when Hashem would instruct Yehoshua not to allow the Torah of Moshe to be removed from his mouth—“Lo Yamush.”10
The leadership status Yehoshua gained did not come out of nowhere, and similarly, the title of Moshe’s greatest student was not just granted to him. One actualizes the role of a great disciple befitting of one day becoming a leader by steadfastly following the tradition of the teacher, by meditating on the true awe of the teacher. One absorbs the splendor of the teacher by being present quietly and unassumingly, observing keenly from his side. And it doesn’t mean that one doesn’t ask questions at all, but it means one accepts the sanctity of that tradition and humbles himself before doing so. And this was Yehoshua, the true student of Moshe and the Torah tradition.
Yehoshua vs. Amaleik
The above is one dimension of Yehoshua’s role, serving as the perfect apprentice of Moshe Rabbeinu. However if one looks closer at Yehoshua in our context, one will notice another theme surrounding him that seems to have between little and nothing to do with being Moshe’s student. That theme is the enemy, Amaleik. What is that supposed to mean?
Well, if one looks at the Pesukim, in each breath that Yehoshua’s name is mentioned here, it is in the context of his apparent mission against Amaleik.
- “V’Hilacheim BaAmaleik”4
For example, the Torah writes, “Vayomer Moshe El Yehoshua B’char Lanu Anashim Tzei V’Hilacheim BaAmaleik…”-“And Moshe said to Yehoshua, ‘Choose for us men; go out and battle against Amaleik…’”4 And then, it states, “Vaya’as Yehoshua Ka’asheir Amar Lo Moshe V’Hilacheim BaAmaleik”-“And Yehoshua did just as Moshe said to him and he battled against Amaleik.”8
- “Vayachalosh…Es Amaleik”11
And a little later, “Vayachalosh Yehoshua Es Amaleik V’Es Amo L’fi Charev”-“And Yehoshua weakened Amaleik and his people by the sword.”11
- “…V’Sim B’Oznei Yehoshua…Ki Macho Emcheh Es Zeicher Amaleik…”12
Now, in case anyone is concerned that Amaleik’s connection to Yehoshua in our context is just a coincidence, the Torah writes finally, “Vayomer Hashem El Moshe K’sov Zos Zikaron BaSeifer V’Sim B’Oznei Yehoshua Ki Macho Emcheh Es Zeicher Amaleik MiTachas HaShamayim”-“And Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Write this memory and place it in the ears of Yehoshua for I will surely wipe out the memory of Amaleik from under the heavens.”12
The question now is: What connection does Amaleik have to Yehoshua? As was mentioned, this setting is the very first one in which we meet Yehoshua, and the setting is the war against Amaleik. Moreover, this setting is the first time we truly meet Amaleik. What is the basis for this apparent association between Yehoshua and Amaleik?
“V’Lo Yarei Elokim”7 – The Greatest Skeptic
To answer this question, we have to better understand Amaleik’s essence. The problem is, though, as was discussed earlier, that the Torah doesn’t give away all that much about Amaleik either. He attacked the B’nei Yisrael. But, is that all? What made Amaleik so much worse than every other people that tried that? Why does G-d want to wipe him out?
It has to be more than the mere fact that Amaleik attacked the B’nei Yisrael. Parshas Zachor emphasizes the manner in which Amaleik attacked the people. There, the Torah specifies, “Zachor Eis Asheir Asah Lecha Amaleik BaDerech B’Tzeis’chem MiMitzrayim; Asheir Karcha BaDerech Vayizaneiv Becha Kal HaNecheshalim Acharecha V’Atoh Ayeif V’Yagei’a V’Lo Y’rei Elokim…”-“Remember that which Amaleik did to you on the road when you were leaving Egypt; that he happened upon you on the way and he cut off the weak ones who were behind, and you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d…”7
With these verses, we’re given a little more information about Amaleik. Amaleik attacked the weakest of the people, while the B’nei Yisrael were tired. It was a very underhanded tactic. This strategy is understandable from the perspective of war; it is an easy way to score a number of casualties. Why does the Torah care to highlight this tactic?
The underhanded nature of Amaleik’s attack is problematic as it demonstrates indeed, how meticulous and premeditated the attack was. It demonstrates the thought and design Amaleik put into this attack, how he feared natural manpower, but he did not fear G-d, as the verse testifies. If Amaleik feared, or even believed in an intervening G-d, with all of the preparation in the world, he would not have attacked the B’nei Yisrael at all. Was it not clear that the B’nei Yisrael had G-d with them? The wonders in Egypt and at the Sea of Reeds had become public knowledge as would be revealed by the fact that Yisro became aware of the news while in Midian.13 Did the same news make an impression on Amaleik at all? Did it shake him?
On the contrary, Amaleik was the first challenger to the returning champions, G-d and His people.14 What about this momentum which the B’nei Yisrael clearly had? Did that not scare Amaleik? Apparently though, to Amaleik, that was all it was, momentum. They were “on a roll.” They were doing pretty well for themselves. But that was it. Nothing major—there was no need to make anything big of it. When they were weak, he felt he could attack them and show everyone that there are “no monsters under the bed or in the closet”—“There is no Hashem guiding them.”
With all of the above, one might be able to detect that Amaleik is the stubborn, unamused skeptic who cannot help but notice “the hype” of G-d, and yet immediately shrug it off, because that was all it was: “hype.” The whole educational display that Hashem revealed in Egypt, Amaleik made little of. The Amaleik ideology challenges the entire tradition which preaches G-d’s Oneness and reflects the B’nei Yisrael’s manifest chosenness. It challenges the basis of belief in the Divine.
In turn, Amaleik was not or is not just a people, but a spiritually cancerous ideology that tries to pull the rug out from under everything we’ve learned to be true. It tries to challenge the basis of our belief and cut it off from the weaker among the generation. Amaleik represents a fabrication that needs to be wiped out.
Scholarship vs. Skepticism
Before we go further, we need to qualify exactly what the parameters are of this “evil ideology” and truly define what it is about Amaleik that must be purged from the world. The Lubavitcher Rebbe famously observed that Amaleik [עמלק] sames the same Gematria or numerical value, as the word Safeik [ספק], doubt. Indeed, this consistent with the Amaleik personality and ideology which challenges everything that we believe in, on the basis of “doubts.”
The question though is if there is a place for doubt. In order to be a good disciple, a good scholar, one needs to be somewhat skeptical in order to ask the right questions. One has to sometimes doubt in order to attain clarity. One has to challenge the givens in order to reestablish them firmly, if indeed, there is any weight to those givens. Maybe, one or two of the given assumptions are incorrect or can use modification. One can take an intellectually honest approach to life and make educated search for evidence and ask all of the appropriate questions. What, then, is intrinsically wrong with the shadow of doubt which Amaleik casts?
There is indeed a point where academia ends and sheer, stubborn skepticism and foolishness begins, and that is when certain givens are confirmed by the Holy Mesorah and its transmitters or when the evidence in the affirmative is piercing. Questions for the sake of clarity and refinement are acceptable, encouraged, and necessary for one’s understanding of the truths conveyed, for example, by the Mesorah. But, when that truth has been established, and one proceeds to not just ask further questions, but begins taking a stance in the darkness of his phantom “doubts,” when one develops an attitude in accordance with that doubt, it is no longer skepticism for the sake of scholarship. It is just toxic skepticism. This degree of doubt takes many forms, sometimes appearing in the guise of humble and intellectually honest scholarship. In reality, it is merely using scholarship as spade for skepticism, intended to reinforce doubt instead of reaching honest conclusions and discovering the truth.
Amaleik was not an academic scholar. He was just a skeptic.
The Scholar vs. The Skeptic
And what does it take to defeat this ideology? It takes a faithful disciple of the tradition, and a true scholar. It takes a Yehoshua. Indeed, the latent content of Yehoshua’s task in this war was more than fighting the physical war, but to faithfully respond to the teacher of G-d’s tradition. Yehoshua is the foil to Amaleik because while Amaleik smugly tries to brush off the facts and pull the rug out from under Torah faith, Yehoshua persistently stands beside his educator and spiritual leader, answering his every calling. It was with this faith that Yehoshua went to battle with Amaleik. The proof is that when the war transpired, it was not the might of the warriors, but it was their focusing at the heavens that won it for them.15 Of course, Moshe’s rising scholar knew that there was more to war than just a good strategy. He would certainly have to do his research, ask the right questions to find the truth. But, anyone who grew up and lived by the faith of a Torah scholar knows that at the end of the day, it would take Divine Providence to accomplish anything. That is Torah 101!
That is the nature of the war between the scholar and the skeptic. We accomplish nothing by folding our arms and shaking our heads at the tradition when we have questions. We accomplish nothing when we demand evidence without searching, while turning a blind eye to the truth that in front of our faces. We accomplish and counteract the Amaleik ideology by being intellectually honest and modest scholars, thirstily studying the truth of the tradition, faithfully carrying on with the charge as the Torah commands it. And in the situation where we run out of obvious answers, we humbly look to the heaven as the B’nei Yisrael did in the war. We don’t know everything. We do know though that Divine Intervention is the basis of the B’nei Yisrael’s survival and success. It is the unchanging tradition, and it is our job to be students of this tradition.
May we all be Zocheh to adhere to our tradition with intellectual honesty and humility, conquer the blind and stubborn skepticism of Amaleik once and for all, and Hashem should enable us to achieve ultimate victory with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Shemos 17
- Bamidbar 13-14
- Shemos 17:9
- Bereishis 36:12
- See Shmuel Aleph 15.
- Devarim 25:17-19
- Shemos 17:10
- Yehoshua 1:5
- Shemos 17:13
- Tanchuma 9
- Rashi to 17:11 citing Rosh HaShannah 29A