These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Reflections on New Leaders in Parashat Beshalach given on the occasion of my mother’s yahrzeit

Posted on January 26, 2021 by Carole Daman

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This blog piece was written by Carole Daman (Year ’73-’74, Spirituality Retreat ’13, ’14, ’15, ’17, ’18,  WPLS ’08, ’09,  PLS ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16 ’17, ’18, ’19, ’20). Each year a Day of Learning is dedicated in memory of her late mother, Rose Grossman Goldberg / Brayna Raizel bat Avraham z”l.

The following is a talk I gave last year at Shalosh Seudos at my synagogue, the Young Israel of Scarsdale.

Tonight will be the 8th yahrzeit of my mother Rose Goldberg Brayna Raizel bat Avraham. My mom’s yahrzeit is the 14th of Shvat. Since this is a month before the 14th of Adar when we will celebrate our victory over Haman, the genetic and/or spiritual descendant of Amalek, I will apply to Purim the custom of beginning to learn about Pesach 30 days before the holiday by focusing today on the battle against Amalek.

Parshat Beshalach begins and ends with the defeat of Bnei Yisroel’s enemies. But these two episodes are very different from one another. At the Sea of Reeds, the Egyptian army is completely decimated, showing the whole world that God, the one and only Creator, also has the power and the will to intervene in human history in order to protect His people.

At the end of the parasha, out of the blue, Amalek attacks Bnei Yisroel. Recounting the incident in Dvarim, Moshe describes Amalek’s action as karcha baderech, “he happened upon you on the way.” Rashi points out that the word karcha suggests not only the random nature of the attack but its impact on the nations of the world.
Kar also means cold, and before Amalek dared to attack, the nations terrorized by
God’s actions at the Sea of Reeds, considered the people of Israel too hot to lay a finger on. Afterward, it was possible to doubt God’s intervention in human affairs.

In the battle against Amalek, to apply the terminology of the Shemoneh Esreh, Hashem is Ozer but He is not Moshia, as He was at the Sea. God helps Bnei Yisroel defend themselves, but He does not step in and save them. This sets the pattern for the rest of Jewish history.

As Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits explains in God, Man and History, “God hides from man most of the time so that man may believe in Him without compulsion.” This excludes, Rabbi Berkovits continues, “any manifest intervention; it does not eliminate indirect intervention by the Almighty…which the human being is free to recognize or reject. “

And so with the advent of Amalek, we are also introduced to two new Israelite leaders Yehoshua (Joshua) and Chur. Until now the text has only singled out the three important siblings—Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. But immediately after the Torah tells us, “Amalek came and battled Israel in Refidim,” the next verse states “Vayomer Moshe el Yehoshua (Moshe said to Yehoshua…” In his first appearance in Tanach, identified only by his first name, Yehoshua is given a great deal of responsibility. He is told by Moshe not only to lead the battle but also to choose the others who will fight alongside him. Yehoshua’s name appears three more times in this episode. He does as Moshe has instructed him and eventually, with the help of Moshe’s praying with lifted arms, Yehoshua weakens Amalek.

When Hashem directs Moshe to record the future erasure of the memory of Amalek, Hashem tells Moshe not only to write is as a remembrance in the Book but also to recite it in the ears of Yehoshua. The rationale for this becomes clear when, in Bamidbar 27:18, Hashem tells Moshe to appoint Yehoshua bin Nun as his successor and when, in Dvarim 25:17-19, Moshe conveys to the people God’s commandment that they wipe out the memory of Amalek after they have rested from all their enemies in the Land of Israel.

The other new character, Chur, who aids in this defeat of Amalek does not outlive Moshe even though he is young. According to Rashi based on Divrei Hayamim (First Chronicles), he is Moshe’s nephew, the son of Miriam and Caleb. As Yehoshua fights Amalek, Chur and his uncle Aharon hold up Moshe’s arms as they grow heavy.

Chur’s importance is reinforced the only other time he is mentioned in the Torah as Moshe is about to ascend upon Mount Sinai to receive the stone tablets and other laws. Yehoshua, described there as Moshe’s servant, accompanies Moshe to the mountain. Moshe then tells the elders he is leaving behind to wait till he returns and in the meantime to bring any grievances to Aharon and Chur.

When Moshe comes down the mountain after Hashem has told him that the people have made a golden calf, he meets Yehoshua at the mountain but we never hear of Chur again. According to Midrash Tanchuma, Chur was killed when he rebuked the people for thinking that Moshe would not return and this murder was the reason Aharon later acceded to their wishes.

So while Yehoshua continues to be Moshe’s faithful disciple and eventually his successor, Chur seems to disappear. However, Chur leaves an important legacy. Before Moshe comes down from Mount Sinai, according to the pshat, in Parshiot Teruma and Tetzaveh, Hashem gives Moshe detailed instructions for the building of the Mishkan, its accouterments and the vestments of the Kohanim and whom does Hashem appoint to be in charge of this whole project? Betzalel son of Uri son of Chur! God fills Chur’s grandson with ruach Elokim, “the spirit of God” and the wisdom to create all of the holy objects upon which the Shechinah will rest.

As for the struggle against Amalek, since Yehoshua is unable to complete the conquest of the Canaanites it falls upon Shaul, the first king of Israel, to destroy the ultimate enemy. When he fails at his assignment by sparing the king, Agag, it is left to future members of the tribe of Benjamin, Esther and Mordechai to vanquish Haman the Agagi. Their story, Megillat Esther, begins with the feasts in the garden of King Achashverosh’s palace. The scene is set by describing the luxurious hanging curtains in the garden. The verses begin “chur karpas u’techelet,” a white material, fine cotton and turquoise wool. What is most unusual is that the “chet” at the beginning of the word “chur” is much larger than the other letters, calling our attention to the word. Noticing it several years ago, I thought of Chur and his grandson Betzalel who supervised the construction of the Mishkan and its accouterments including the bronze altar which according to Divrei Hayamim (Second Chronicles 1:6) was also present in Shlomo’s Beit HaMikdash. This reminded me of the Midrashic view that Achashverosh was celebrating because of his misconception that the 70 years mentioned by Jeremiah had passed and the Beit HaMikdash would never be rebuilt. Indeed, according to Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, the author of Lecha Dodi, the enlarged “chet” implies that on that day Achashverosh adorned himself with the eight garments of the Kohen Gadol. We are also familiar with the custom of reading, “vekeilim mikeilim shonim” in the trope of Eicha to indicate that these “vessels, vessels unlike any other” were actually holy vessels plundered from the Beit Hamikdash.

But the word “chur”, reminds us not only of his grandson but also of Chur himself and the original battle against Amalek in our parasha. Indeed the meaning of the word “chur” in the Megillah, “white stuff”, suggests to me the purity of the man Chur, who was never tainted by the stain of Cheit Ha’egel, the Sin of the Golden Calf.

Significantly, as Rashi points out, the verse before Amalek’s attack ends with Bnei Yisroel’s question: “Is Hashem Among Us or Not?” Megillat Esther teaches us that the answer is “Yes”, even when it is not obvious as it was not to those who worshipped the Golden Calf.

Yehoshua was also not stained by either the sin of the Golden Calf nor the sin of the spies whom he opposed together with Caleb. Both he and Chur are models for leadership required for our people to continue to battle against the forces of evil in this world. It is my prayer, that we too will be strong and of good courage, and recognize the presence of our sometimes hidden God.