Beshalach: Of Death Wishes and Lone Rangers and Friendship

Caution: I am not a rabbi and this blog is a parshah hack about Parshat Beshalach. I don’t try to cite sources or explain everything. I tell you what I think is cool about the parshah and share some teachings and ideas that I think are cool but I am not trying to be scholarly, the teachings are a mix of my own ideas and things I have learned elsewhere, if you want scholarship, go talk to a rabbi. Also, the writing is stream of consciousness so I am probably breaking so rules of grammar, or is it grammar rules? Anyway…

So here is the thing. I am special, actually everyone is special, and not like a unique snowflake, I actually believe that God made everyone. That everyone walking around on planet Earth right now was actually put here by the Creator of the Universe. That it is of universal importance that you, dear reader, are here and doing whatever it is that you are doing. And when I realize that everything I do it of universal importance, it changes how I act and how I treat others. But I am actually getting off topic because what I actually want to talk about is Amalek. Amalek shows up at the end of the parshah. Amalek is a bad guy.  Amalek is the force that tells me that I am not special, not only am I not special but I should probably just go shoot myself in the head (God forbid anyone would do such a thing), but that’s the thing is Amalek is the force that causes us, humanity, to do all kinds of horrible things. According to Amalek, nothing is special, it doesn’t actually matter if you shoot yourself in the head or not, it doesn’t matter if you live or die, it doesn’t matter if you are a good person or a bad person, it says in the Torah, God want’s us to choose life, Amalek says that doesn’t matter either. It’s beyond relativism. Nothing matters, it’s all meaningless. Everything you love, it’s all dust. All of your dreams, everything you are working for, everything you are trying to build, Amalek takes it and throws it into a black hole of emptiness. And that can drive us to do some pretty wicked things.

So here is the story in the parshah and thanks to Sefaria for the translation:

“Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Pick some men for us, and go out and do battle with Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill, with the rod of God in my hand.” Joshua did as Moses told him and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Then, whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; but whenever he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur, one on each side, supported his hands; thus his hands remained steady until the sun set. And Joshua overwhelmed the people of Amalek with the sword.”

So for those of you who aren’t familiar with Judaism, the idea is that what you just read is not just a story,  it’s a symbol, a metaphor, an archetype for all kinds of psychological and spiritual energies.  So what’s the metaphor going that I see here? What’s the lesson? There are many. But here are couple.  Basically Moshe was up on the mountain, and Bnei Yisrael was down below, and whenever Moshe was holding up his hands Am Yisrael was winning and whenever his arms went down they started losing. Moshe had to keep his hands up, the survival of Am Yisrael was riding on him. He could not afford to be weak, he could not afford to rest, he had to put his very life being into keeping his arms up. But we was mortal, he was a man, and eventually he tired. But he was not alone. He had friends. Now Moshe was singular, no one could take his place, not Hur, not Aaron, only he could do the job, and his friends knew this too, they knew they couldn’t step in for him. So what did they do? They held up his arms for him. Aaron and Hur supported him, so he could hold his arms up until the sun went down, until the day was done, until the distance was run, and Am Yisrael won. So what’s the lesson? Moshe could not do it alone. We are all interdependent. Whether we like it or not, we cannot be the lone ranger at all times. We need other people, we need to be in relationship, we are made that way, and sometimes there is something we we can only do by ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that we can be supported and that is why it is so important to ask for help. Especially on the spiritual path.

Another lesson is this:  What’s the battle about? It’s about the inner struggle between the impulse to live, to grow, to journey from Egypt to the promised land, from constriction to freedom, versus the desire for death, the death wish, the desire for oblivion that comes when we have given up hope, when everything is meaningless. The sages teach that Amalek knew they were going to lose, that they attacked just to spite God. And they attacked the back, they attacked those who were weak, and that is when Amalek attacks us, when we are feeling weak.

I heard from my friend Simcha Frischling giving over Rebbe Nachman that the voice of Amalek, is like white on rice. That when a person is under attack by Amalek, they can’t distinguish between their own inner voice and that of Amalek because Amalek is doing a perfect impersonation. It’s a psychic enemy living in your head speaking to you in what sounds like your voice telling you horrible things that lead to self destruction. And it sounds like your voice.

Rabbi Naftali Citron teaches that Amalek give us spiritual amnesia. What’s the amnesia? That we forget that we are good. That voice is not who we are. When Amalek attacks, I forget that I am good. And that’s when it starts to make sense to do horrible things. So what’s the medicine? Rebbe Nachman says that we have to find the nekudot tovot, which means the good points. The good points, around us, in each other, in ourselves. And when we find the good points, it creates a light, and I remember that I am good, that I matter, that life matters, that what I do matters, and suddenly I see that I am not that voice. And then it makes sense why we have this mitzvah to utterly destroy Amalek, because that voice, that convinces us that we are bad, and so we might as well do bad things, there is no place for that.

And so when the shadows are encroaching, and it seems as if it’s all in vain, may Hashem bless you to remember that you are good, to remember that you are not alone, that you can ask for help, you can invite assistance into your life, and that when you are under attack by Amalek, that you find the good points, and they light up the darkness, that you see that life matters, that you matter, that what you love matters, and that  you find the strength to keep going until you overcome. Shabbat Shalom.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s