Friday, March 14, 2008

Responding to terror

Hundreds of civilians were attacked in a terrorist ambush that targeted women, children and the infirm. The Jewish army responded swiftly and decisively, killing scores of insurgents and wounding hundreds of others.

This may sound like yesterday’s news, but it’s actually the Torah’s account of the first-ever terror attack against Jews- when Amalek ambushed our People soon after they left Egypt.

Every year, on the Shabbos before Purim, we are instructed to review this story and its lessons. It contains key aspects of how to deal with terror.

The nature of terror

Egypt was the World Superpower 3300 years ago. When miracle after miracle brought Egypt to its knees and the Jewish nation became the first slaves to ever leave Egypt alive, neighboring nations were concerned. After the world’s mightiest army disappeared underwater, Middle Eastern countries were shaken to their core.

40 years later, the nations of Canaan still shuddered as the Jews approached their borders. No thinking People would have dared to challenge the Children of Israel when G-d so patently destroyed their enemies.

Except one.

Amalek snickered at the jitters rumbling through the developed world. Laughing off the wild stories of Jewish miracles, Amalek ambushed the fledgling nation almost immediately after its miracle at the Red Sea.

Terror is insolent. It attacks indiscriminately, where sovereign armies would never strike, for no good reason.

The cause of terror

Jews are trained to look beyond what meets the eye. When evil grows in our world, we look inward to see how we may possibly be feeding it.

Only moments before Amalek attacked, the Jews had complained against G-d. With their own eyes, they had seen miracle after miracle in Egypt; they had crossed the sea on dry land; they were living in the climate-controlled environment of the Clouds of Glory, and G-d’s pillar of fire guided them at night. Yet, with G-d’s spectacular presence staring them in the face, when they ran out of water, they complained: “Is G-d with us or not?”
Rashi, the most important commentator on Torah, provides a telling metaphor for their attitude: “A man was walking with his son on his shoulders. When the son asked for a drink, his father got him water and when he was hungry, dad provided a snack.

“After some time, the pair passed a man on the road. The son turned to him and asked: ‘Have you seen my father anywhere?’

“Incensed, the father dropped his son to the ground and a dog came and bit him.”

“Likewise,” Rashi explain, “When the Jews became blasé about G-d’s constant care and protection, He allowed Amalek to attack- to remind them not to take His attention for granted.”

Terror breeds when we overlook Hashem’s miracles; when we believe in our military might or political prowess rather than in our G-d.

The response to terror

No sooner had the Amalekites attacked, Moshe sent Joshua and a crack army to repel them. Moshe climbed a mountain to oversee the battle.

From atop the hill, Moshe raised his hands. As long as his hands were raised, the Jews had the advantage. When he tired and dropped his arms, the battle turned in Amalek’s favour.

Obviously, Moshe’s hands didn’t make or break the Jewish victory. His extended arms reminded the people to look to G-d for victory, to entrust Him with their success. As long as they reinstated G-d’s control, their enemies stood no chance against them. If they slipped back into the “is G-d with us?” mindset, they quickly faltered on the battlefield.

“Zachor, remember!” The Torah instructs us never to forget the Amalek story. Of all the Torah readings of the year, this is the one every Jewish person is required to hear.

Its message is eternal: Fight terror by improving your relationship with G-d. Thinking that we can fend for ourselves without Him or doubting His absolute control place our nation in a perilous position.

Far from Israel, we can still all make a difference. We must fight the spiritual battle, like Moshe atop the hill, strengthening our faith in Hashem.

Hopefully, Israel’s leadership learns to do the same.

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