Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Guest Posting By Rabbi Yaacov Yisroel Bar-Chaiim - De-Victimize: The True Holy War

Zeh leumat zeh asa Elokim. This over against that did G-d make (Ecclesiastes 7). It's a powerful mantra, used liberally throughout rabbinic literature as a type of high-tech spectacles for weary Jewish eyes. These special mental lenses contain fine filters that immediately cause the inner eye to open, widely, upon detecting the light of spiritual counterfeit.

Like the "light" of Islamic Holy War.

How millions, if not billions, of Muslims can really believe that their most obvious blood lust and rabid hatred for anything that pokes at their cultural insecurities even approximates the holy is beyond comprehension. At least the Nazi's (ymshu"z) rationalized their xenophobia in this-worldly terms of needing to "cleanse" the human race (G-d spare us!). But holy??

Zeh leumat zeh. Ah. Now we can see! Truly holy warfare is the call of the hour. Indeed, there's no better time for clarifying this issue than on Parshas Zachor – the pre-Purim Shabbos on which we are obliged to recall the Mitzvah of Holy War on one, totally evil nation, Amalek.

The following offers a brief array of classic commentary on the Scriptural foundations of this Mitzvah.

And (Moshe) called the name of the place Masa u'Meriva {Testing and Contending} due to the contention of the Children of Israel and their testing Hashem, saying "Is Hashem amongst us or not?" And (THEN) Amalek came and battled with Israel at Rephidim… And it was, whenever Moshe would raise his hand – Israel would prevail; when he would relax his hand – Amalek would prevail. And Moshe's hands were heavy, so they took a stone and placed it underneath him… And his hands were faith Until the setting sun. And Yehoshua weakened Amalek and his people by the edge of the sword. And Hashem said to Moshe: "Write this as a remembrance in a book and place it in Yehoshua's ears that I shall utterly eradicate Amalek's memory from beneath the heavens." And Moshe built an altar and called its name Hashem Nisee. And he said: "Since there is a hand on Hashem's Throne, the war against Amalek is Divine, from generation to generation."

~ Exodus 17 ~

Remember what Amalek did to you by the way as you were exiting Egypt; that he happened upon you along the way and tailed you, all the weaklings behind you, when you were faint and weary – He did not revere G-d! And it shall be when Hashem your G-d will grant you relief from all your surrounding enemies in the land that Hashem your G-d gives to you as aninheritance to possess, you shall eradicate all memory of Amalek from underneath the heavens – Don't forget!

~ Deut. 25: 17-19 ~

Ohr Ha'Chaim (on the camp's name):

It appears that Hashem was testing them, guiding them to (constantly) lift their eyes before Hashem. For this (fact of being Divinely tried) is a major principle of Faith and human fulfillment. We thus find that (immediately beforehand) Hashem was cleverly not providing them with Manna in monthly installments, only on a daily basis. He prevented that miracle from occurring until they'd plead before their Maker and He'd respond to their cries. Yet Scripture informs us that instead of crying out to Hashem they strove with Moshe (over the perceived lack of water awaiting them in the desert)! … (So how could the people) make such a mistake of not crying out to Hashem? Behold, they were quite familiar with the efficacy of prayer, as (Scripture had recorded that) "Hashem heard their groans" in Egypt! Perhaps their (immature) view was that there was no need for prayer for things as long as Hashem is "amongst" them!

Kli Yakar (on Amalek's motivation):

Amalek is likened to a fly. This can be understood in relation to the verse (that warns Cain that if he doesn't improve, then) "in the opening sin crouches"… (That is, whereas a fly's) mouth is too weak to damage healthy flesh, it seeks a minor wound through which there's a small entrance into the flesh and there he will crouch (and infect), widening the breach! …So is it with Amalek. As long as Israel was whole with Hashem and there was peace (= wholeness) between them, he had absolutely no access to them. But when he saw… that there was strife between them (as per the name they gave the place)… then Amalek found for himself an opening… adding impurity upon impurity.

Meor V'Shemesh (on the heaviness of Moshe's hands):

The klipa {convoluted spirituality} of Amalek was to uproot Israel from complete faithfulness in Hashem, may he be blessed. He wanted to confuse their thoughts via evil faith, G-d forbid. As we find in the Holy Zohar that immediately following their exclamation "is Hashem amongst us or not?" – immediately thereafter: "And THEN came Amalek." Now, while these words of the Zohar go very, very deep and are worthy of our extended contemplation, we can nevertheless derive a straightforward understanding. The Israelites had come to a crisis of faith, which served as a vacuum for Amalek to fill in order to totally abrogate our faith in the eternal G-d – G-d forbid! …This is alluded to in (the verses describing) "every time Moshe would raise his hands" (the Israelites would be victorious). That is, "hand" is called power, as is known from Rashi and Targum… which means that whenever he failed to establish the root of faith in their hearts, that's when Amalek would prevail.

Baal Shem Tov (on the hands of faith):

Targum Onkelos renders this as "his hands were spread in prayer"… It's known that the wicked Amalek cooled Israel down from their great faith in Hashem that they had (just experienced at the Sea), as it is written (after they crossed it): "And they believed in Hashem…" This is what it means (when the Torah retrospectively comments that) "he happened upon them (kar-cha, from krir otcha, which means he cooled you) on the way." Moshe, peace onto him, taught them to repair themselves! Thus Targum explains Moshe's hands of faith as being spread in prayer (as a model).

Ramban (on the hands of faith):

By way of the Truth (of Kabbalah), he uplifted his ten fingers to the lofts of heaven, alluding to the ten Spheres, and cleaved to Israel's embattled faith.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (on the building of the altar):

Amalek's greatness lies in destruction. Israel's mission is in building; the peaceful human building up of everything earthly to G-d. This building an altar, this final raising up of the whole earth to form an altar to G-d, is the antithesis of Amalek's sword… (The main lesson being) to fight and overcome everything ungodly and inhumane on earth.

Yesod Ha'Avoda (on the weariness):

The fatigue and weariness refers to their emotionless holiness. (Amalek's respective) lack of Divine reverence (means that Hashem was teaching the Israelites that this lack of feeling) needs reverence, (which is cultivated via) simple fear of G-d; fear of (Divine) punishment. For behold – the feeling of spiritual delight is associated with the sun. That is, it depends on such simple faith which never ceases, but serves as a vessel for retaining the light of spiritual pleasure. It was precisely this matter over which Moshe was battling Amalek.

Rashi (on the ambush):

"He tailed you" – A tail strike, in that he would castrate the circumcised organs (of his victims, as if they were mere tails) and fling them upwards (as an act of defiance against this having any higher purpose)! "All the weaklings behind you" – Those lacking in strength, due to their sins, the Cloud (of Glory that had been protecting the camp) would eject.

Koznitzer Maggid (on the remembering):

The essence of the issue of Amalek is the evil inclination which torments every human being. This is what is meant by "The war against Amalek is Divine, from generation to generation." That is, in each generation and at every moment is the great war which we must constantly wage, during our entire stay upon the earth... This is (what is meant by) "Remember what Amalek did to you" – to you, personally, in that (his energy) has turned your insides into Amalek!

Nesivos Shalom (on the prerequisite relief from all other enemies):

When you uproot the power of evil within your own soul, then you will be capable of eradicating all traces of Amalek (...When the verse is calling us to) remember what Amalek did l'cha, to you, it means mimcha, "out of you!" (... ) Every evil inclination which a Jew personally feels, whether in his thoughts or deeds or entire reality, it all emerges from Amalek, whose entire aim is to uproot holiness from Israel via each and every individual (...Thus we learn) "It will be when Hashem, your G-d, relieves you from all your surrounding enemies, all remembrance of Amalek shall be eradicated." (...This means that) as a result of all the efforts from your side (G-d) will provide relief from your inner, soul enemies – at that point all traces of Amalek which suckles from that energy will be eradicated, in and of themselves.


Now, browsing through such commentaries, even via the lens of zeh leumat zeh, is far from grasping the many Halachic and Kabbalistic nuances that these complex Torah passages offer. But an overarching psycho-spiritual theme can be detected. In fact it's riveting to realize that despite the many geographical, cultural and even ideological differences between these Torah scholars, they all uncover the same, extremely sobering message: Truly holy warfare seeks not an enemy "out there" but first and foremost within our own relationship to our Maker! There are no ruffled feathers of honor here. No hysterical land claims. No theological missionizing. The Torah's Holy War is purely and simply a response to a malicious exploitation of a spiritual malaise within our souls that leaves us with an absolute clarity that these external enemies are actually Divine tools for causing us to reassert our faith – on the highest level.

We're not wounded victims who desperately re-act with the maniacal, retaliatory intention to inflict as much pain on our tormentor as possible. Rather, Judaism presumes its warriors are pure souls who use war as a means to pro-act a stronger, purer commitment to the Source of all being. Moreover, this proactivity is a process of self enlightenment that teaches us to trust in the power of the Alm-ghty to fight His own battles. We're not defending Him (!) but merely serving as His vessels and must respectively keep ourselves pure for when He chooses to assert His Will, along very clear-cut, rational lines.

Fascinatingly, I found that I was able to apply this general truth within a recent counseling session.

They were a rather newly religious couple in distress and this session "happened" to be taking place during the week following Parshas Beshalach, that selfsame Torah reading in which we learn of Amalek's first attack. As is unfortunately typical among dysfunctional marriages, they came so full of claims about how the other was crossing red lines that I didn't dare dream of suggesting they learn the art of holy warfare – at first. Rather, we began with yet another round of learning to "own" our rage and frustration and begin to understand the other. But then, about half way through the session, I saw an opening.

"Isn't it interesting," I shot into the air with a major dose of curiosity, "that the last Parsha taught us that Amalek attacks right after the Crossing of the Sea, which is so often likened to shidduchim, the process of matching up souls for marriage? We all know how much of a lift the Israelites experienced during that crossing – like with the thrill of becoming engaged. But before they knew it they're dumped into a big, frightening desert – kindov like the first years of marriage!"

Ah. The tormented twosome began to vigorously nod – in unison!

"So what was the real problem of that desert?," I continued. "They suddenly felt scattered. In contrast to the earlier anxieties of simply following G-d's lead out of an obvious Hell hole, the Israelites now felt abandoned to wander towards a mysterious Divine mount. 'So where's the water,' they cried! They felt so victimized. 'How COULD G-d do this! Take us so far and dump us like this! Hey – Where is He anyway? Wasn't He just amongst us??'

"They were on such a righteous roll. They were sure they had justified claims. The Other must do the work! But then came Amalek. He cooled down their self-righteousness. And Moshe countered. He taught the Israelites to look Heavenwards – to their true Commander-in-Chief. Suddenly they found the strength to stand up for the truth. Nobody owes them anything! They have a mission in life – to reach Sinai – and by G-d they will get there. So indeed they succeeded in repelling this totally unprovoked, outrageously evil ambush.

"But why didn't the Israelites finish them off?," I concluded my little pulpit speech, which thankfully seemed to be enlivening them, even causing their eyeing of one another, affectionately. "Why did Yehoshua merely 'weaken' them, after which G-d instructs to let them go and whip out the quills instead, recording for posterity the eternal importance of machei emchei, that 'I (G-d) will utterly eradicate Amalek's memory from beneath the heavens?!' What do you think?"

She was first.

"Well, if they would have immediately finished off this frightening, outside enemy, they might have lapsed right away back into their internal bickering," she explained, as the tense, sad muscles in her jaw began to soften. "This way G-d was orchestrating things so that every single challenge would be seen as another opportunity for priming themselves for that ultimate battle."

"In-DEED," I exclaimed. We were on to something! "That's the only way to reach the awesome unity that emerged out of the legendary v'yeechan, when we encamped at the foot of Sinai 'as one person with one heart.' Each came there as a warrior, fighting his own intra-personal war. And guess what. After G-d Revealed His Torah, to each and every one of them, do you know what He said to cap it off? Think about it. It's fascinating, at the very end of the coming parsha …"

This time he chimed in, verse-sparring with me until locating the right one. Feeling the blessing of a big wave of faith washing through their hearts, I happily offered them a surfboard.

"Yes – Min Ha'Shomaym dibarti imachem. 'I've spoken with you from Heaven.' Now why would G-d tell them that? Does it really matter from where the words of the Holy Torah exactly emerged? After all, the Almighty is every where! Rather, the Creator's intention was to inform them that He had just spoken to each and every one of them from within their own shomaymius, their personal, inner heavenliness! In contrast to the war against Amalek, which takes place underneath the heavens, their having come to this point already as holy warriors merited them entering a whole new reality of functioning within Heaven! That's the realm in which Divine voices are heard. That's the ideal of marriage."

I could have sworn I saw them stand straight up, on the same board, and begin to ride that wave of faith!

"The big trick, however," I cautiously added, as I spotted their presumptuously widening smiles, "is not to get distracted by the surrounding storm, as the Israelites would do, at the time of the actual Revelation. That would precipitate their downfall. For when we let the storminess in our lives distract from hearing our Creator, it means we are propping up "surrounding enemies," which means Amalek has yet to be conquered, which means we're still struggling below the heavens!

Ah. Those smiles melted back into pensive introspection. They were ready to head to shore.

"The bottom line is that none of these 'enemies' are bad, per se, in the sense of having any real power over our godliness. As the prophet Yeshayahu famously declares: G-d creates evil! Rather, every enemy, especially those emerging from within the hearts of those we love, must be confronted as Divine opportunities for de-victimizing and respectively relearning ways to better our selves. Conversely, if we attempt to dump onto the other all our frustration for not nearing our own Sinai, Amalek will wedge himself deeper into our psyches, G-d forbid!"

UN-believably, it really seemed to help. This deeply distressed marriage was back on track. Though their "Sinai" still seemed so far away, their "desert" was much less frightening. And s-o-m-ehow their new surfboard, called de-victimization, would help them move on.

Apparently it had Zeh leumat zeh seared into its fabric.


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