Thursday, January 28, 2010

Parashat Beshalach: Who Should Battle Amalek?

"Moses told Joshua: Choose for us men and go fight Amalek!" (Exodus 17:9).

Why was Joshua chosen to lead the battle against Amalek?

The Midrash explains that Joshua was chosen because he was a great-great grandson of Joseph. Amalek is described as having no fear of God (Deut. 25:18). So it was appropriate that a descendant of Joseph - who proudly declared, "I am a God-fearing person" (Gen. 42:18) - should lead the fight against Amalek.

The Maggid asked: Was Joseph the only one of the twelve tribes who was God-fearing? All of Jacob's sons were tzaddikim; they were all yirei shamayim. Why was the tribe of Joseph specifically chosen for this mission?

The Disheveled Brother

It was very frustrating for Richard, but nothing seemed to help.

Richard's brother could never hold on to a job for more than a week. Richard took care of him and supplied him with food and clothing. Since they were the same size, he would give his brother his old clothes.

But a few days after giving him his coat, Richard would see his brother - and the coat that he had just given him was now missing several buttons. And some of the seams had become unraveled. The coat looked terrible.

"What happened to the nice coat I gave you?"

"What can I say?" replied his brother. "You gave me a coat that has seen better days. The seams were weak and they ripped, and the buttons just popped off."

One day Richard decided to test this explanation. He went out and purchased two identical coats, one for himself and one for his brother. A few days later he came across his brother - and once again, his new coat was in a terrible state, missing buttons and ripped seams.

"What happened to your coat now? Look at mine, it still looks brand-new, while yours is already a pile of rags!"

His brother was not moved. "Do you think you can change the laws of nature? That's how it is in the world. Poor people wear ragged clothes, with missing buttons and ripped seams."

Richard was unhappy, but accepted this explanation. Not long afterwards, however, they were both invited to a dinner. After the meal, a clown entertained the crowd by pretending to be a poor person. The audience roared with laughter as he accurately imitated the movements and speech of a pauper.

Richard noted that the clown's coat, while certainly convincing as belonging to a poor person, was not ripped and still had all of its buttons. He turned to his brother:

"Look at the clown! His imitation of a poor person is flawless - he didn't miss the smallest detail. And yet his clothes are not ripped and tattered. So you see that a poor person does not have to be dressed in shmattas!"

Joseph, the God-fearing Egyptian
The Torah describes Amalek as a people with no fear of God. But Amalek could claim: this is not a trait that should be expected of a non-Jew. Perhaps it is nice if people fear God - but who said that everyone is obligated?

We may respond to such a claim by examining Joseph's actions as Pharaoh's viceroy. Like the clown pretending to be a poor man, Joseph pretended to be an Egyptian, speaking their language and wearing their clothes.

Joseph worked hard to look and act like an Egyptian so his brothers would not recognize him. Nonetheless, he told them, "I am a God-fearing person." Joseph did not feel that such a statement would be unsuitable for a non-Jew to say.

Thus Joseph is the tribe most suitable to battle Amalek. Joseph demonstrated that fearing God is a proper trait for all peoples.

(Adapted from Mishlei Yaakov, pp. 147-148)