Last January, during a Shabbat morning’s women’s tefillah (prayer), I stood at the bima, arms outstretched, holding up an open Torah scroll doing hagbah for the congregation. On either side of me there were strong, proud women, lending their strength, supporting my arms. While it is quite possible that I could have successfully lifted the Torah and lowered it back to the shulchan without dropping or damaging the scroll, I was relieved to have backup. And as I returned to my seat – relieved to have completed the task without dropping the Torah – passing congratulatory nods, handshakes and hugs, I immediately thought of this week’s Torah reading portion, Beshalach (Exodus 13:17 – 17:16).
In this week’s parsha, the Amalekites wage war against the Israelites. Much has already been written about the Amalekites who were the first to attack the Israelites after their narrow escape from Pharaoh’s tyranny. In other passages we read about the Amalekites attacking the Israelites who lived on the margins – the weak and elderly. At the end of the battle in this week’s reading, God commands the Israelites to eradicate the memory of Amalek – a decree that is to last in perpetuity. “Inscribe this in a document as a reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven (Exodus 17:14).”
Instead I want to focus on Moses. Moses is described as humble, and though appointed by God to redeem the Israelites out of slavery and lead them into freedom, he still demonstrates reluctance and insecurity. Among other instances, this is evidenced in the preceding passages when Moses asks God to help him quench the Israelites’ thirst, lest they stone him [to death] (Exodus 17:4).
Here, we begin to see a different side of Moses. When Amalek attacks, Moses appoints Joshua to appoint generals to wage battle (Exodus 17:9). In turn, Moses ascends the mountain with Aharon, his brother Hur. The Torah describes that whenever Moses held up his arms, Israel prevailed over Amalek, and when he lowered them Amalek prevailed. And as he tired, Aharon and Hur fashioned a place for Moses to sit and continued to support his arms until the day’s end when Joshua wins the battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:12).
This dramatic scene of the Israelites’ survival being dependent on battling along with Moses’ being able to hold up his arms indicates that when a nation’s existence is at risk, both action and faith are required. But it also begs all kinds of theological questions. Would God have let evil triumph if Moses had not taken Aharon and Hur with him for support? Would God have let the Israelites fall? It’s a question that we do not need to answer, since we know how this story turned out.
Today Israel is facing a similar battle where its enemies wish to erase the existence of the country and eradicate the Jewish people around the world. Who in today’s story plays a role similar to Moses, and who are the Aharons and the Hurs supporting them?
Do the hostage families play the role of Moses, holding up signs and telling stories of their loved ones taken into captivity, with the rest of us supporting them through loving communications, amplifying their messages, and calling elected officials to advocate for the hostages’ release?
Is today’s Moses depicted by evacuated families who are lifted up through financial aid, social service programs, and document their experiences as they begin to return home?
Is Moses the State of Israel itself, with world Jewry standing firmly at its side? Whether by traveling to Israel to volunteer, financial generosity, or demonstrating proud Zionism? Even from a distance, world Jewry can play the roles of Aharon and Hur.
The answer is all of the above, and more. From the hostage families to the IDF, to those who are holding down the fort while their loved ones are deployed, to those who seek out local volunteer opportunities in their cities, yishuvim and beyond, who are all playing the role of Moses, while the rest of us do what we can to hold them up.
I firmly believe that God would not have selected Moses to lead if Moses were not up to the task. And part of being a good leader is knowing when to ask for – and more importantly, to accept help.
I think back to that moment when I approached the bima, grasped the atzei chayim (the Torah’s handles), lowered my body and then lifted the scroll. I wouldn’t have accepted the honor if I didn’t think I could actually do it. Nor would I have been asked if people thought I physically wasn’t up to the task. But I was grateful to have my friends strengthening me. And like so many heavy experiences, there is honor in shared responsibility and accountability.
When it comes to Israel, I cannot imagine a universe where God would allow for the country’s destruction, nor the decimation of its population (let alone world Jewry). And even so, each of us has the responsibility to play the roles of Aharon and Hur, to ensure Israel’s survival and help it flourish. During these difficult times, may we each merit to follow Aharon’s and Hur’s examples, as we continue to uphold our commitment to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.