January 20, 2016
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1005, B’Shalach, Parsha Thought


The Jewish nation emerged from Egypt where they experienced great miracles, culminating with the splitting of the Red Sea. At the very moment they were rid of one threat they confronted another: Amalek.

Amalek’s attack, our Sages tell us, was provoked when the Jewish nation expressed doubt whether G-d was still with them when they ran out of water in the desert. The word Amalek is numerically equal to the Hebrew word for doubt: safek. Amalek is the external manifestation of an internal Amalek, which sows doubt in the hearts and minds of people.

It follows then that the war waged against the external Amalek was a reflection of the war one must wage against the internal Amalek.

Let us examine how this external war was won. While the Jewish people, commanded by Yehoshua, fought what would seem to be a conventional war, the power behind winning that war was anything but conventional.

The Torah describes Moshe, his brother Aaron and his nephew Chur, climbing a mountain with Moshe carrying “G-d’s staff” in his hands.


It would seem that the power to win the war was vested in this Divine staff, the very one with which Moshe performed miracles in Egypt.

Yet, as we read further, the Torah describes how the war was won:

It came to pass that when Moshe would raise his hand, Israel would prevail, and when he would lay down his hand, Amalek would prevail.

In other words, it was not the Divine staff that Moshe used to support the troops fighting Amalek but the raising of his hand!

Rashi anticipates the question of why Moshe had to raise his hands for the Jewish people to win, when he had the power vested in the staff with which he performed some of the greatest miracles ever.

Rashi cites the words of our Sages, as recorded in the Mishneh:

Did Moshe’s hands win the war?  Rather, when the Jewish people gazed heavenward and subjugated their hearts to their Father in heaven they were victorious, but if not they would falter.

The Torah continues:

Now Moshe’s hands were heavy; so they took a stone and placed it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Chur supported his hands, one from this side, and one from that side; so he was with his hands in faith until sunset.


At this point several questions arise:

First, why didn’t Moshe’s staff, which worked so well in Egypt, suffice to bring about the miraculous victory?

Second, why did Moshe need Aaron and Chur to help him in prayer?

Third, if Moshe’s hands were heavy and needed support, why does the Torah state that they placed a rock underneath him? How did sitting on a rock help to support his arms?

Fourth, when the Torah stated that they supported his hands, it is self-evident that they were standing on his two sides. Why does the Torah add: “one from this side, and one from that side?”


The answer lies in the very different dynamics of the battle against Pharaoh’s Egypt and the battle against Amalek.

To be sure, both struggles were not just physical. The exile experience in Egypt was more than just bondage; it was stifling and constricting of the soul. The Jews in Egypt were as much in a spiritual prison as they were in physical confinement. They had degenerated and begun to fall into the spiritual abyss. They could not pull themselves out; they needed Moshe to use G-d’s staff, i.e., G-d’s singular power, to remove the physical and spiritual shackles. 

The situation with Amalek was markedly different. The Jewish nation was no longer in exile. While they were not yet in the Promised Land—and had not even received the Torah—they were nevertheless out of Egypt. With all the miracles they experienced first-hand they had begun to bask in G-d’s transcendent light.

At this point, when the Jewish people expressed doubts about G-d’s presence in their midst, those doubts were not going to be remedied by a Divine revelation. This new scenario demanded that they roll up their proverbial sleeves, get out of their comfort zone and fight both the external and internal Amalek.


We must now try to understand Moshe’s role in this battle. Why was he needed if it was the Jewish people who had to pull themselves out of the spiritual quagmire they got themselves into?

The answer lies in our understanding that Moshe, the paradigmatic Jewish leader, possessed two aspects of leadership. Moshe, on the one hand, was G-d’s messenger and instrument to perform all the miracles.  And as G-d’s instrument he was the most qualified to lead because of his humility. His “transparency” enabled him to serve as an unobstructed channel to G-d’s energy.

This explains why when we recite from the Hagada at the Seder we speak of how G-d redeemed us and did not delegate this role to His messenger. The question has been raised, how could we say that there was no messenger, when Moshe initiated every plague? Wasn’t Moshe G-d’s messenger?

The answer is that unlike G-d’s other messengers, Moshe was so self-effacing and transparent that it was as if he were not there.


By contrast, Moshe’s role in the war against Amalek was no longer going to be channeling a Divine revelation. Now, Moshe had to ignite the spark of Moshe that is within each and every Jew. No Divine staff could do this. Moshe had to inspire the Jews to change and direct their hearts heavenward by raising his own hands heavenward.

However, Moshe felt there was something amiss. Moshe, whom the Torah testifies never lost any of his physical strength, even on the day of his passing, suddenly experienced difficulty keeping his hands aloft!

Moshe realized that something was seriously wrong, but rather than ascribing his weakness to the people who were still not cleansed of their internal Amalek, Moshe humbly attributed this to his own inadequacies.

Moshe thus sat down upon a rock. Rashi points out that Moshe chose to sit on a rock and not on a cushion, because he wanted to share the pain of his brethren. Moshe perhaps attributed their losses in the battle against Amalek to his lack of empathy for them. When can a leader best inspire his flock? When he is connected to and has great empathy for them.

Moshe, in his humility, felt he was not doing enough as a leader to connect with the people, so he sat on the rock to feel their pain and reinforce his bond with them.

In truth, Moshe the “faithful shepherd” was not the one responsible. The problem with the faulty connection between Moshe and the people was a “frayed wire’ in their connection to Moshe.


In his attempt to strengthen his connection to the people Moshe realized that he had to relate to them in a specific way. He had to connect to their individual personalities and shore them up.

When a person needs inspiration, it must relate to the individual’s specific character. Just instilling a general feeling of faith and inspiration will not suffice. One needs to augment that faith with a deep feeling of love and reverence for G-d.

Moshe therefore took his two deputies, Aaron and Chur, for support. Aaron was the epitome of kindness, and Chur the model of rigid discipline. In the parlance of Kabbala, Aaron’s soul was associated with the attribute of chesed while Chur’s was the embodiment of g’vura. By having them support his arms, Moshe inspired the Jewish nation to strengthen its own soul-powers of chesed and g’vura, which translate into love for and awe of G-d.

The Torah does not end the scene there. The Torah continues on to mention that they were standing “on this side one and on this side one.” This was meant to underscore that while these two traits are diametrically opposites, one on the right and one on the left, nevertheless they both relate to the “Oneness” Of G-d. When a person lives a unified life because everything he or she does is directed towards the one G-d, the differences between right and left become irrelevant. 


There are many parallels to our time. We too are in the interim period between Galus-exile and Geula-Redemption. We have witnessed incredible miracles, of Biblical proportion, when we saw the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the modern day Egypt that enslaved its Jews physically and spiritually. As the Rebbe stated, this and other miracles of recent times were actually the product of Moshiach’s impact and a sample of what will come next. These were G-dly actions, channeled through Moshiach, in the same way as the miracles of the Exodus came directly from G-d, channeled by Moshe. Moshe only served as a conduit while using G-d’s staff.

Moshiach, like Moshe before him, has a second role consistent with a new reality. In this transitional period, while we are standing on the threshold of the final redemption, there are those plagued by doubts. We don’t see the overt miracles we saw in the past, while we are witness to negatives such as terrorism and other ills. These doubters raise the question, “Is G-d within us, or not?”

To deal with this new scenario, Moshiach must put on a different hat, so to speak. He is not only a channel for G-d’s energy to change the world; he also seeks to cement his connection to us and our connection to him so that we are freed from our internal Amalek.

While, in the past, we passively enjoyed the benefits of modern-day miracles, to defeat Amalek now we have to be proactive and strengthen the hands of Moshiach.  If we do not take the cue from Moshe’s/Moshiach’s uplifted arms, it means that we, the people, have failed to eradicate our internal Amalek.

Whether we are on the right or on the left (spiritually speaking), whether we are Aaronites or Churites, as long as we are directed to the goal of bringing G-d’s oneness to the world, we will succeed in destroying Amalek and bringing about the ultimate Redemption!   

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
See website for complete article licensing information.