A Drash for Beshalach (5768)
by Marc Mangel
Warning: this Drash is R-rated (for violence).
In this parsha, we have the miracle at the sea, in which Pharoah’s army is destroyed; the battle with Amalek; in the Haftorah the death of Sisera.
At the very end of the parsha, we are reminded that the war against Amalek, the war against evil, will go “Me-dor dor” – from generation to generation. This battle against evil will never end. How are we to conduct it? As always, the Torah gives us advice.
In the Song of the Sea, we read (Ch 15, v 3): “HaShem is the Master of War; HaShem is his name”. Now, in one sense, it is clear how God can be the master of war, through awesome power. Thus far in the Torah cycle we have seen the destruction of all life except that in the Ark with Noah, the destruction of Sodom and Gemorah; the death of the first-born of Egypt and the swallowing of Pharoah and his chariots by the sea. The power of God is awesome and we might think that “HaShem is the master of war” refers to God’s awesome might which we should emulate.
Indeed, there is little to surpass the awesomeness of having developed the tactic to put a 500 or 1000 pound laser guided bomb right on target and watch it do its job (which I have done), except perhaps being the pilot or the bombadier navigator of the A-6 that delivers it off the carrier.
Were we to think this way, we would be completely wrong. Rashi tells us that the key to understanding how to behave in the war against evil is the phrase “HaShem is his name”. Even when God is doing battle and taking vegenance against his enemies, God never fails to show the quality of mercy. R. Mordechai Yosef, the Isbitzer, explains: in Midrash we are told that just as God was about to destroy the Egyptians at the Red Sea, the angel of Egypt came to recommend that God be merciful with them – that even with all their sins and wickedness, the hearts of the Egyptians had a small inclination towards good.
But the angel Gabriel spoke up and reminded God of that wickedness of the slavery showed there could not even be a small inclination towards goodness. God then decided, said “HaShem is his name” and destroyed the Egyptians.
R. Reuven Bulka, a modern Orthodox rabbi, further elaborates: “HaShem is his Name” implies the capacity to wage war while even loving life — to protect, and perhaps to have to kill, without becoming murderous. Even when destroying the Egyptians or battling Amalek, the essence of God does not change –God is a lover of mercy [Quote Ki Tissa]
It is our task in life to be as Godly as we can. In the case of warfare, this implies that would should not let the necessity to fight and to kill invade our personalities. We should not allow war to permeate and overcome our human tendencies. Thus, we must simultaneously be strong defenders of the Jewish people and Israel and lovers of peace. This is a tall task, but also an essential part of Jewish consciousness.