Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Parshat Ekev

My Strength and the Might of My Hand

In this week's parsha, Moshe continues his penultimate address to Israel before his death. He encourages Israel not to be daunted by the difficult task of conquest. The God that brought them out of Egypt "The Lord, your God, will deliver them to you, and He will confound them with great confusion, until they are destroyed" (Devarim 7:23).

Moshe then warns Israel not to think that all their success is due to their strength and bravery.

We often consider that the ancient world was a time of miracles – that our ancestors had undeniable evidence to God's existence. Moshe's words, however, show that the ancient world was not that much different to the world we live in today.

We will examine this issue by examining an example of when God "confused" the enemy, the same verb that that Moshe used to encourage Israel not be frightened of its enemies.

Shamgar an early Israelite leader, fought his enemy with ox-goads, an agricultural tool (Shoftim 3:31). In that era, Israel did not have a proper army or weaponry and had to rely on the people, generally farmers, to volunteer for the cause. When they came they had to bing their own weapons, i.e. their work tools. Nevertheless, he succeeded. However, one generation later, when Sisera persecuted Israel with the 900 war-chariots he had at his disposal, Israel folded. "Caravans ceased, and travelers walked on crooked paths" (ibid 5:6). The country could not defend itself against mighty onslaught.

So Devorah, the new judge, developed a cunning plan. She tells Barak to "Go and draw towards Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men" (ibid 4:6). She aimed to neutralize Sisera's weapons advantage by fighting in the mountains. Sisera's chariots would be useless in the mountainous region, making the fight more even. She also moved other troops further south to stop Canaanite reinforcements from reaching Sisera (see ibid 5:19).

Everything was set for an even fight. But when the moment of battle came: "The Lord confused Sisera and all the chariots and all of the camp with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot, and fled on foot" (ibid 4:15). Chapter 4 of Shoftim says nothing else about the actual battle.

So what was the point of all the preparations that Devorah made? If God was simply going to "confuse" the enemy with the edge of sword why did they have to bother?

If we examine the story with a more careful eye, particularly the victory song (Chapter 5) that Devorah and Barak saing, we can find out what God "confusing" the actual enemy.

Devorah deliberately chose Mount Tavor as the only way for Sisera to get to her was through Nachal (wadi) Kishon. Once Sisrea got there, it rained. "Lord… when You marched out … the earth trembled, the heavens also dripped; also the clouds dripped water. The mountains meltedFrom heaven they fought; the stars from their courses fought against Sisera. The wadi Kishon swept them away" (ibid 5:4-20).

Wadi Kishon became a flash flood sweeping many enemy soldiers away. Those that survived found their war-chariots immobilized by the wet soil. Indeed Sisera was forced to flee on foot – his horse and chariot were useless.

This was God "confusing" the enemy.

Those warriors had a choice in deciphering their victory. They could have said that Devorah had a great tactical plan, that she chose the right season to strike and that Sisera fell into her trap – perhaps she also had a bit of luck. "My power and my strength has brought us this valor" (Devarim 11:18).

Alternatively, they could have said that Devorah's planning and their struggle went hand in hand with God's help. They saw God's role in the victory in the way things panned out. They had to choose to see the miracle.

Interestingly, there was no third group who believed that God does everything – that we can rely on Him and that we do not have to do anything.

The ancient world was only a world of miracles and Godliness to those who chose to see it that way. Our world is like that too.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Ekev entiled: "The Mountainous Country" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Ekev entiled: "The Two Arks" appears at

A further Sedra Short on Parshat Ekev entiled: "Shema 1 and Shema 2" appears at

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