Our Torah portion this morning describes that glorious moment in time when the Israelites, just having been emancipated from Egypt, cross the Red Sea in such a miraculous manner that it caused Moses, Mirijam and the people to break out in song …a song that gives this Shabbat the special name of “Shabbat Shirah” – the “Shabbat of song.” It was a song of such significance that it is actually recited in some traditions every morning in the Shacharit service.
The song begins with glorious words of praise to God. The first verse tells us:
“Ashirah L’Adonai ki goa gaa – I will sing unto the Eternal for He is
The second verse tells us:
“Zeh eili v’anveihu – This is my God and I shall exalt him.”
But then comes the third verse with the shocking, almost incomprehensible words,
“Adonai ish milchamah Adonai shmo – the Eternal is a man of war, Adonai is His name.”
God a man of war? This seems to contradict everything we traditionally say about God. War and God, this looks like an alien concept. “O’seh shalom bimromov – May He who makes peace in the heavens
above make peace for us and for all Israel.” Or “Yevorecha Adonai v’yishmercha – May the Eternal bless you and
keep you … may He bless you with peace …” Countless times, it is God whom we turn to in the name of peace. Indeed, in the Talmud we are told that God’s name is Peace.
But still, “Adonai ish milchamah”, God a man of war, even so?
I am sure, I mentioned the following mashal, an analogy, already once before: To me the Torah is like a good old Bagel. You know: the donuts with the big hole in the middle. A bagel is only a bagel because of this hole. No hole, no bagel. And this is somehow true for the Torah as well. The Torah works only, because it shows us all the aspects of life without sparing the downsides. War, famine, hate are as much part of this world, as peace, prosperity and love. For me one of the most important messages of the Torah is that we shouldn’t have unrealistic dreams of a world without darkness, rather to learn how we can cope with the reality, and to keep the scale between good and bad a little bit more on the good side. A just society acknowledges that bad things happen, and evil exists, without giving up.
And here we come to understand what that difficult verse: “Adonai ish milchama” – “God is a man of war” may mean. The Israelites have just experienced in a wondrous, spectacular manner how God has taken them out of the land of Egypt. They have suffered enough, and now they are only seeking peace and tranquility. But the Torah finds it necessary to warn us: don’t think the battle for freedom is over! In some way, it has only just begun. In the biblical narrative the Israelites are about to have to fight for their survival. Battles with Amalek and Amon and Moav and the Caananites are going to take place in the years to come …
Our Torah portion ends with the imperative to remember Amalek, the first tribe who attacked the Israelites right after the exodus. Forgetting the Amalekites, or that resistance, and even war, is an immanent quality of God might have deprived the Jewish people, us, and the world of a valuable lesson: The Amalekites have emerged through the ages as the prototype for aggressive, dangerous human behavior. Understanding the consequences of such evil, and battling against it, may be critical for the survival of Judaism and all humankind.
The Torah, our Bagel, is very clear that there is darkness in the world, that war is part of it and that we need to be aware of it, or even to fight from time to time for our freedom. Do I like it? No, but as I said, a bagel is only a bagel because of the hole in it. Our Torah is only our Torah, because of all its teaching and our world is the only world we have – let’s make it a better place.
May we all be blessed with a long life to see a time coming with less violence, less hate, and less war in it.
(Source: Fields – Torah )