Armed and Ready

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Parsha, BeShalach, describes the great Exodus from Egypt. What a sight to behold, that had to have been! Can you imagine an entire nation, men women and children including all their livestock exiting a country in an orderly fashion at the same time? This would seem to testify to the organizational powers of Moshe, Aaron and the Elders who were able to unify the Jews for this miraculous event. In describing it, the Torah nonchalantly makes the point that “…the Children of Israel were armed when they left Egypt” (Shemot 13:18). What is the teaching behind this bit of information?

One also wonders, from whence did these armaments come? There is no conversation between Moshe and Pharaoh in which the request for weapons is made. Nor does the Torah tell us that the Jews raided the Egyptian armories to obtain the needed tools of warfare. So how was this hardware obtained? At the time of the Jew’s departure, it might have been thought that they planned to return, as Moshe had only requested a work furlough of about a week, so the People could worship Hashem in the wilderness. So why would they need implements of war?

To answer this question, we need to have a clearer picture of what took place at the time of the liberation from Egypt. The question arises; when Pharaoh released the Jews on the night of Makkat Bechorot (Slaying of First Born), was the intent for them to go off into the wilderness, offer Sacrifices to Hashem and then return to Mitzrayim to resume their service to the State, or was their entire relationship to Egypt to be terminated? Many have asked whether Moshe was guilty of deception in pressing Pharaoh for permission to go and worship Hashem and implying that the people would then return, which, in fact, they never did. Did the Jews resort to trickery and deceit in securing their freedom from the Egyptian tyrant?

The pertinent verse states: “And G-d said to Moshe: ‘I will bring yet one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt; after that, he will send you away from here; when he does send you away, he will drive you away completely, with force” (Shemot 11:1). If Pharaoh was only granting the right of a short vacation, then what is the meaning of, “He will drive you out completely?”

Rabbi Samson R. Hirsch explains it as follows; “The words, ‘Pharaoh will send you away from here’ does not mean ‘will let you go to serve your G-d’ but rather means ‘will send you away from here never to return.’”

Rabbi Hirsch’s interpretation is reinforced by what takes place after the Jews had left Egypt. “It was told to the King of Egypt that the people had fled; and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned regarding the people, and they said, ‘What is this that we have done that we have sent away Israel from serving us?” (Shemot 14:5)

After the terror of the “Night of the Firstborn” had abated somewhat and Pharaoh and his advisers realized that the Jews were not returning, they regretted that they had given them their freedom and now wanted them back. But on that panic-filled night, they practically begged them to leave their country.

The Torah does not mention any transfer of weaponry to the Jews, but we have to assume that it took place, for the verse attests that they were armed. I would venture the guess that once Pharaoh evicted the Jews from Egypt he was agreeable that they should take whatever they needed to defend themselves for they would not be entitled to the protection of the Egyptian army. From this point on, they would have to fend for themselves and always be ready for battle.

This contains an important lesson for us. The idea of fighting back against our enemies is not fully accepted among all segments of religious Jews. Some assert that faith in G-d along with Mitzvot, especially Torah study, suffices to secure our protection and safety.

It must be emphasized that such a view constitutes a dangerous distortion of the Torah philosophy and places our people in grave danger. True faith in Hashem does not permit one to be passive and expect Divine intervention to solve his problems. All of the classic Jewish heroes such as the Patriarchs, Moshe, King David, the Maccabees, Queen Esther etc. prayed to G-d for assistance but acted in the most rational and courageous manner imaginable. They utilized diplomacy when that was the only feasible option, and bravely went to war when the situation demanded it. They never claimed that their learning of Torah exempted them from practical action, including combat. The notion that one can be pacifistic and rely on his religious piety to protect him from danger constitutes a serious distortion of Torah.

Over the course of history, an attitude of passive submission to persecution took hold of the Jewish people and caused great damage. With the Zionist movement and the advent of the State of Israel, the Jews recognized that they needed to fight back in the most skillful and courageous manner in order to survive.

Indeed, the exploits of the IDF show how effective Jews can be in taking up arms against their manifold enemies. However, there still remain traces of pacifism in the depths of the Jewish soul. This can be seen whenever some purported friends seek to entice Israel to accept terms of new “peace arrangements” which entail sacrifices of territory and other concessions that endanger the state.

When Hashem took the Jews out of Egypt, He saw to it that they should be “Armed and Ready” in order to deal properly with those antagonists who would arise to destroy us. In the wake of the worst atrocity ever committed against Israel since its inception, the entire world now vilifies us and seeks to impose a cease-fire followed by the establishment of a Palestinian State. 

In other words, the terrorists should be rewarded for their butchery and be permitted to continue it from an even more effective vantage point.

Israel must categorically reject that program and instead emulate what the U.S. did at the conclusion of WWII. It dismantled the structure of the Nazi government apparatus in Germany and that of the militarist system in Imperial Japan. These Fascist Empires were replaced by Western Democratic societal models and the teaching of the ideology of aggression and genocidal eradication was outlawed.

That is the approach that is most needed and appropriate for Gaza and the territories, from which Muslim terrorists seek to pursue their goal of annihilation against Israel. Our people must be strong and our leaders courageous. We must always be armed and ready with the battle cry “Praise Hashem and pass the ammunition” on our lips as our brave soldiers do battle with the enemies of the Jews and their G-d.

Shabbat Shalom.