From Bitter Waters to Battlefields

January 21, 2024

Freshly liberated from the chains of Egyptian slavery, the Israelites embarked on their monumental journey towards the Promised Land filled with a spirit of hope and renewal. Yet it didn’t take long before their faith and fortitude were tested. First, they arrived at a location that had only bitter water. Then, they had no food, and finally, they found themselves in the desert without any water at all. But perhaps their biggest challenge was when the Amalekites, sensing the vulnerability of a people in transition, chose this moment of frailty to strike. Though they had just experienced the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, they were weary and weighted by centuries of bondage. The Amalekites launched a brutal attack on the Israelite nation. They targeted not just their physical strength but also their spirit. Focusing on the weak and defenseless at the rear (Deuteronomy 25:18), they exposed within themselves a deep moral bankruptcy. Their actions were profoundly cruel and unjust.

Rabbi Elchanan Samet offers a perspective that casts the Amalekite assault not merely as an act of aggression but as a strategic attempt to halt a divine process. The Israelites were not merely wandering nomads; they were a people on a divinely charted course, moving from the bondage of Egypt to the freedom and promise of Canaan. Amalek’s war was not one of self-defense or a random act of desert marauders. It was a calculated, cold-blooded attempt to disrupt the entry of the Jewish people into the land of Canan and disrupt God’s divine plan. The place of attack, a location marked by the Israelites’ thirst and crisis of faith, was also no coincidence. It was a targeted strike at a most vulnerable and critical point in the Israelites’ journey, aiming to sever the unfolding narrative of liberation and destiny. In this light, the battle with Amalek becomes an archetypal clash between the forces that uphold the divine moral order and those that seek to undermine it.

The battle against Amalek in the desert stands not just as a historical event, but as a symbol of the enduring struggles faced by the nation of Israel. Today, Israel finds itself in a complex geopolitical landscape, facing threats from various groups which surround it. The confrontations with such groups, such as the current war against Hamas following the October 7th massacre, are modern reflections of the ancient struggles, where the survival and prosperity of the Jewish people and the realization of their national destiny are at stake. Just as in the times of old, these conflicts are not just about land or power, but about the fundamental right to exist, to thrive, and to fulfill a divine destiny that has been centuries in the making. The spirit of resilience and determination that guided the Israelites through their battle in the desert continues to resonate today as they strive to secure peace and live up to their divine calling in their historic homeland.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

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