We will need to cross the sea again

4 Feb

On Tuesday,  a Grad-model Katyusha rocket smashed into the center of Ashkelon.  Israel responded by warning those living in the area of the Philadelphi Corridor that the air force was going to perform the nearly daily post-cease-fire ritual of bombing a few tunnels there.

We warned them to leave.

We gave them a few hours.

They got out of the way.

We bombed the tunnels and warned Hamas that they shouldn’t start up with us…”or else…”

(And let us say, Amen.)

This has been a daily ritual here for six or seven days now. It seems like nothing has changed in Southern Israel.  Our hopes that Operation Cast Lead had brought normalcy back to the lives of thousands of Israelis was short-lived.  Much was accomplished…but clearly, not enough.

I am not a political or military leader – so far be it from me to say that I know what we should have done or could have done – but I do believe that the tales in our Torah are much more than tales – they are blueprints of timeless truths that are pointless to question….

For that reason, it seems to me that what we need to do is to cross the sea again….Let me explain what I mean.

Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt, watched as he and his countrymen suffered ten formidable plagues.  Plagues that caused millions of dollars in economic damage, agricultural chaos, disease, suffering and death…as the first born of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s own firstborn, were taking their last breaths, Egyptian society said enough is enough….

Pharaoh stayed up all night, along with his officials and all the rest of Egypt.  There was a great outcry, since there was no house where there were no dead.  Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron during the night.

“Get moving!” he said. “Get out from among my people – you and the Israelites! Go ! Worship God just as you demanded!”Take your sheep and cattle, just as you said! Go! Bless me too!”

The Egyptians were also urging the people to leave the land.  “We are all dead men!” they were saying.            (Ex. 12:30-31)

And so, that seems to have marked the attainment of the objectives of the original “Operation Moses.”  The Egyptians had suffered the powerful force of the God of Israel.  CNN was broadcasting pictures of the suffering and destruction that Moses and Aaron had wreaked upon Egyptian society.  One might even have felt sorry for the innocent Egyptians who were caught up in the stubbornness of Pharaoh, his delusions of grandeur and irrational resistance in the face of a power much mightier than his own. Innocent Egyptian children – firstborns nationwide – struck down by the mad god of the Israelites, in order to achieve the goals of the operation.

But that was not to be the final curtain for Egypt.

The Israelites hurried out of Egypt….they ran from their persecutors, anxious to be free of their oppressors.  So fast, that the Torah makes a point of stating:

The Israelites baked the dough they had brought out of Egypt into unleavened (matzah) cakes, since it had not risen.  They had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had not prepared any other provisions. (Ex. 12:39)

“Driven out of Egypt”? That is a very strange way of describing the outcome of the redemption brought about through  “God’s strong hand and outstretched arm.”

I suggest that here the Torah is not telling us what actually happened…but rather, the way the Egyptians were led to understand it…despite the facts  on the ground…Pharaoh spun the story differently…the newspapers in Egypt the very next day carried the following headline:


While the Israelites were busy celebrating their grand victory 0ver Pharaoh, God saw clearly that the story wasn’t over – He saw that Egypt still venerated Pharaoh, that despite the destruction all around it was Egypt that had declared victory over their adversaries.

Pharaoh had turned the story on its head, and thus, the opening words of this week’s parasha,

Vayehi beshalch Paroh, “And it was when Pharaoh had sent the people out…” (Ex. 13:17). Wait a minute, was it Pharaoh that sent the people out of Egypt?  Why does the Torah here give him credit for the exodus?

It has been an age-old question as to how to understand this expression.

I suggest that this phrase is ultimately the key to understanding the necessity of crossing the sea:  in order to bring an end to Pharaoh and his despotic dynasty – in order to drown Pharaoh and his soldiers, and along with them, all delusions that Pharaoh was  a god, or that the ‘gods of Egypt’ were on his side.

As long as Egyptian society would remain under the impression that Pharaoh was still in control –  the Israelites would never find peace. Pharaoh and his armies would eventually come after them…or after another nation for that matter. The powerful plagues were not enough to destroy the spirit of Egypt. The propaganda machine was still in place. The regime of Pharaoh had to be brought down if the Israelites were going to realize their freedom and carry on with their calling. The Egyptian people would need to be freed of their illusion, freed of the falsehooods and the brainwashing. (Speaking of brainwashing…have you seen this? )

I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and he will come after them.  I will triumph over Pharaoh and his entire army, and Egypt will know that I am God. (Ex. 14:4)

This was not about revenge.  Unfortunately, there was….and there is…no other option. We will have to cross the sea again.

We must show bravery in the face of this evil. We have no choice but to bring about the end of a regime that would kill infants on the birth stool, that would drown babies in the water. In the war on terror, there are no short cuts. It may not be tomorrow…but there is ultimately no alternative in the war on terror.

“At the end of the day there will be no alternative but to bring down the regime of Hamas, a terrorist organization pledged to our destruction.”  Binyamin Netanyahu, January 13, 2009.

May God give us the wisdom to know what to do, and the confidence to finally do it.



2 Responses to “We will need to cross the sea again”

  1. Barry Wednesday, February 4, 2009 at 11:05 pm #

    Your essay raises an important question about how Hamas should be approached as an enemy. Israel has two archetypical enemies, one political and one existential – Egypt typifies the former, Amalek the latter. Pharaoh had nothing against Jews qua Jews – he was afraid of their development into a potent national entity that could challenge his power. Amalek, on the other hand, from the time of Haman, extending to Hitler, and to its most recent iteration in the form of Ahmadinajead, cannot tolerate the existence on the planet of such a thing called a Jew.

    The difference is important because with our political enemies, the Torah holds out hope for reconciliation after their defeat. We are specifically told not to “hate an Egyptian” and that in the third generation, they can intermarry with Jews (Devarim 23:8-9). However, regarding Amalek, there is no such hope – we are to “blot out the memory of Amalek from under Heaven,” (Devarim 25: 17-19), and Hashem will be “at war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Shemot 17:6)

    Is Hamas a political enemy with whom peaceful coexistence can one day be reached (as has been ostensibly achieved with present day Egypt), or is Hamas the modern equivalent of Amalek – an existential enemy who must be utterly destroyed before it destroys us? Perhaps the Hamas Charter offers some clues:

    “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” (Preamble)

    ‘The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the
    rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.’ (Article 7)

    “[Peace] initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement… Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the infidels as arbitrators in the lands of Islam… There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by
    Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.” (Article 13)

  2. Barry Wednesday, February 4, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    Also interesting to note that our need to warn the Palestinians in advance of the airstrikes has its precedent in the plague of barad, where the aerial bombardment there was also preceded by warnings – in fact, it was this that prompted Pharaoh to realize that God is Just!

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