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SICHOT61 -23: A Perspective on Israel's Current Crisis

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Yeshivat Har Etzion's Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mar 28, 2001, 4:05:00 AM3/28/01


In memory of 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass z"l hy"d,
shot two days ago in Chevron, as well as the victims
of this morning's terrorist attack.
We pray for a refua shelema for Yitzchak Pass,
Daniella Fein, and the many others wounded in the recent

The Splitting of the Sea and the War with Amalek:
A Perspective on Israel's Current Crisis

By Harav Yehuda Amital shlit"a

Translated by Kaeren Fish

We find ourselves now between Purim and Pesach,
between the war against Amalek and the splitting of the
Red Sea. I would like to take this opportunity to repeat
some ideas that I shared with our talmidim regarding the
current situation in Israel.

"And Yitro, the priest of Midian, father-in-law of
Moshe, heard of all that God had done for Moshe and
for Israel His nation, that Hashem had taken Israel
out of Egypt." (Shemot 18:1)

Rashi comments, "What did Yitro hear that made him
come? He heard about the splitting of the sea and the war
against Amalek." Rashi is quoting here from the Gemara in
massekhet Zevachim (116a), which asks which specific
event it was, out of all the miracles and wonders
associated with the exodus from Egypt, that caused Yitro
to journey all the way from Midian to the Israelite
encampment in the desert in order to gain a first-hand
impression of what God had done for Israel. The Gemara
records three different opinions:
a) Rabbi Yehoshua proposes that he heard about the war
with Amalek.
b) Rabbi Elazar HaModa'i maintains that he heard about
the giving of the Torah.
c) Rabbi Eliezer says that he heard about the splitting
of the Red Sea.
Rashi combines two of the answers into one: the splitting
of the sea and the war against Amalek.

Rabbi Yehoshua's answer seems surprising – after
all, what was so extraordinary about the war with Amalek?
Amalek came and attacked Israel. This wasn't a battle for
Am Yisrael's survival; it wasn't the nation as a whole
that was endangered. Nevertheless, it was a war, and
Amalek succeeded in dealing the nation a significant
blow. As we read (Devarim 25:18), "And he attacked the
hindmost of you, all those who were feeble at the back."
And that war had its ups and downs: at times Israel had
the upper hand; at other times Amalek seemed to prevail,
as we read (Shemot 17:11), "And it happened that when
Moshe raised his hand, Israel would prevail, and when he
dropped his hand, Amalek would prevail." The war ended
far short of a sweeping Israelite victory: "And Yehoshua
weakened Amalek by the sword" (Shemot 17:13).

What a great distance separates the miraculous
victory at the Red Sea from the battle against Amalek!
Concerning the Red Sea, we read (Shemot 14:28), "And the
waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen
and the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them
into the sea; not a single one of them remained," while
in the war against Amalek, Israel succeeded only in
"weakening" the enemy.

The war with Amalek took place only a few days after
the splitting of the sea, but it presents a sharp
contrast to that miraculous event, where Bnei Yisrael

"The nations shall hear and be afraid; trembling
shall take hold of the inhabitants of Peleshet; then
the chiefs of Edom shall be astounded, the mighty men
of Mo'av will tremble, all the inhabitants of Kena'an
will melt away." (Shemot 15:15-16)

Forty years later, Rachav describes to the spies
sent by Yehoshua the strong impression made by the story
of what happened at the sea:

"For we heard that Hashem dried up the waters of the
Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt... and
we heard and our hearts melted; there was no courage
left in anyone because of you." (Yehoshua 2:10-11)

But only several days after the splitting of the
sea, Amalek is unimpressed; he demonstrates courage and
comes from afar to wage war against Israel. This is a
historical riddle that we cannot understand: how could
the war of Amalek have taken place against the backdrop
of the very recent miracle at the sea?

It was precisely this point that Yitro found
astounding. He heard about the war with Amalek and its
results, and found it difficult to understand against the
backdrop of what had taken place at the Red Sea. For that
reason, Yitro came from afar. And when he came, he began
to understand the ways of God's special providence as it
relates to Am Yisrael. The Holy One does not allow Am
Israel to rest on their laurels after leaving Egypt, as
though now all their problems are over. Am Yisrael must
always fight, they must always be at war – that is their
fate. They are forced always to gaze upwards, towards
Moshe's raised hands, and to subordinate themselves to
their Father in Heaven.

This fact is so fundamental to the essence of Am
Yisrael that a gentile who wishes to convert is told,
among other things: Know that Am Yisrael have a special
fate - "They cannot receive either too much good or too
much punishment," in the words of the Gemara (Yevamot 47a-
b). As the Rambam explains (Hilkhot Issurei Biah 14:4),

"They cannot receive too much good in this world,
lest their hearts become haughty, as it is written
(Devarim 32:15), 'And Yeshurun grew fat and kicked.'"

Yitro, who ultimately converted, had to know this before
he became a member of Am Yisrael.

Similarly, it was Israel's fate to be continually at
war with the surrounding nations throughout the First
Temple period: the Tanakh emphasizes the exception to the
rule when it notes that "the land was quiet for forty

We today, in the State of Israel, find ourselves in
the midst of a war similar to that of Amalek in Refidim.
The war is not one of survival; the existence of the
State of Israel is not in danger, just as in the war
against Amalek the nation was not involved in a battle
for survival. But Amalek succeeded in hurting many
individuals: "All those who were feeble at the back."
Today, too, to our sorrow, the enemy succeeds from time
to time in harming individuals, despite our military

The aim of the State of Israel is not to annihilate
the Palestinians, but rather to weaken them, just as we
read in the war against Amalek, "And Yehoshua weakened
Amalek by the sword." The reality is such that no one
expects or hopes for anything more than an end to the

Someone who observes our struggle today on its own,
divorced from a broader perspective encompassing the
great miracle of the "splitting of the sea" in our own
time, namely, the establishment and development of the
State of Israel - such a person has a real problem. The
current events must be seen against the background of
that historical miracle, when Am Yisrael, immediately
after the Holocaust, succeeded in establishing a State
which, within a mere fifty years, has achieved a level of
economic and military power that astounds all the nations
of the world; it is a phenomenon which has no parallel in
history – and all of this while in the midst of continual
war. This State managed to bring in the Jews from the
Arab countries at the very last minute before their gates
were locked. This in itself was also a miracle.

Someone who looks at the current events against the
backdrop of that historical miracle or, more accurately,
those historical miracles, on the one hand sees things in
their true proportions, and on the other hand also
recognizes that it is the hand of God that stands behind
that historical "splitting of the sea" that was the
establishment of the State. And if that is so, then it is
natural that such a person should declare, in the words
of the Gemara, that "God does not perform miracles for

Our problem lies mainly with the youth, who have
difficulty perceiving a complex reality. They see today
on its own and yesterday on its own; they have trouble
seeing today as part of a larger unit of time. They
perceive salvation as standing apart from mourning, and
their frequent transitions from euphoria to despondency.

We, the older generation, are better able to see the
whole picture, a picture that includes both the splitting
of the sea and the war of Amalek. The memories of our
struggle for the establishment of the State with all that
we experienced – the days of celebration and the days of
mourning – are part of our consciousness, and for that
reason we have faith that "Hashem will not desert His
nation, and will not abandon His inheritance."

(This speech was delivered at Yeshivat Har Etzion's
annual dinner in New York, 25 Adar 5761, March 20, 2001.)

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