March 16, 2019, Israel
Moshe, Aharon, Hur; unity, brotherhood, faith.
The Jewish holiday of Purim is soon upon us. The holiday celebrates an event described in the Scroll of Esther by which an evil enemy of the Jewish people plotted to annihilate the Jewish nation. By human and divine actions this attempt was blocked, the Jewish people survived and now every year the Jews dress up in costumes, have large festive meals and allowed to drink heavily in celebration. For most Jews that is where it ends and begins, nothing more, nothing less.
But there is much more to the story, and it is a universal message for mankind, a message very relevant to our current situation. It is a message of vigilance. It is a profound message.
This morning both Moshe and Zion made a point of reminding me of the special Torah reading this coming Thursday morning, the day of Purim. Yes, for us the holiday of Purim is about fasting the day before (the Fast of Esther), the special prayers and the special Torah reading. As the only Cohen in our little synagogue, the only direct descendant of Aharon/Aaron the High Priest, it falls upon me to read this important section of the Torah. I began reviewing the reading and the words hit me like a bolt of lightening.
The nation of Amaleq heard of the internal strife amongst the people of Israel, they heard about Israel doubting God and the leadership of Moshe...
"Then came Amaleq and fought with Israel in Refidim. Moshe said to Yehoshua/Joshua, Choose for us brave and pious men and go out of the camp and fight against Amaleq."(Exodus, Chapter 17, verse 8,9)
This means Amaleq saw weakness and was encouraged to attack. When we show internal strife, lack of unity, distrust of our leadership - we are inviting the enemy to attack. This is a powerful lesson for today.
So what does Moshe our leader do? he takes immediate action, he does not hesitate. He commands Joshua to select special forces (brave men with combat experience - Rabbi Abraham Iben Ezra) and strike at the enemy camp. He commands him 'Go out', i.e. leave your comfort zone, leave your defensive positions and go and strike the enemy! Do not wait for the enemy to come to you. (Imagine if the leaders of the free world had acted this way on the eve of World War Two against the Amaleq of that time, the Nazi war machine. Compare the behavior of the free world at that time with the actions of Moshe thousands of years earlier. Had they only studied the Bible.)
"Tomorrow, when the battle is waged, I will stand on the top of the hill with the divine staff (rod) in my hand."(Verse 9)
Moshe leads by example, he does not stay behind. He tells his disciple Joshua, I will be there with you, on the front lines, standing on the hill, not hiding in a shelter. I will take with me the rod with which I approach Pharaoh the King of Egypt. I approached him without fear, he with this kingdom but I with my pure faith, and I defeated him, just as you will defeat Amaleq. I am old now, more than 80 years old but I am going out to combat with you, and I will pray there.
"So Joshua did as Moshe had told him to mobilize for war against Amaleq and Moshe, Aharon and Hur ascended the top of the hill." (Exodus 17, 10)
We see here unity in the face of an enemy attack. The enemy attacked because they saw division, so up to the top of the hill, visible to all, stood the three! Moshe, his brother Aharon and their fine nephew Hur the son of their sister Miriyam and the great Caleb.
This spiritual support meant a great deal to the troops.
"Whenever Moshe held up his hand, the Israelis were brave and overcame the enemy but when he led down his hand Israel lost courage and then Amaleq triumphed.
"But the hands of Moshe were heavy with weariness, so Aharon and Hur took a stone and placed it beneath him, and he sat upon it, and Aharon and Hur supported his hands, one on side and one on the other side; thus his hands were firm in prayer and faith until the setting of the sun."
"And Joshua weakened Amaleq and his nation by the sword."(17, 13) Joshua weakened their spirit and broke their forces (from the Aramaic interpretation)
But listen now and listen closely for there is more to come. There is an important message here, one that we forget in each generation. The battle is over but it is not.
"Then God said to Moshe, write this for a memorial in a book and rehearse it in the years of Joshua, (your successor who will lead Israel after you), I will blot out the remembrance of Amaleq from under the heaven.
"For God has sworn by his throne that God will have a war with Amaleq from generation to generation"(verse 16)
What we have here is an amazing statement. The war is over, the attack has been thwarted, victory has been achieve. But then, God, the great source of wisdom, says...Write this down, the war will never be over. It will continue eternally.
What is being said here is that Amaleq represents the evil forces that exist in mankind and the battle against this evil is eternal. Whether it is the Crusaders of the middle ages who massacred thousands of innocent people, The Muslim hordes that rode across the Middle East massacring all others, the Inquisition of Spain which burnt Jews alive at the stake, the Nazis, or the current new leaders who are trying to discredit Israel as a nation (the new anti-Semitism); they have all come with the same purpose, to annihilate the forces of good in the world. This is our warning, it is an eternal struggle. God is warning us, thousands of years ago, this battle may have ended but the struggle is from generation to generation.
So while some will skip the "boring" synagogue part of the Purim festival and focus their celebration on eating and drinking and dancing, I will be reading these words in the synagogue. I will be remembering my namesake, Moshe, and my ancestor Aharon, and I will continue to teach and preach this message: Don't give up the Fight!
Stand up and be counted, from generation to generation, the struggle continues.