Fighting To Look Up
Dedicated to the memory of Raizel Devorah bat David Shaykin on her Yahrtzeit
“It happened that when Moses raised his hand, Israel grew stronger, and when he lowered his hand, Amalek was stronger (Exodus 17:11).” “Was it Moses’ hands that won the battle or lost it? Rather, as long as Israel looked heavenward and subjected their heart to their Father in Heaven, they would prevail (Rosh Hashanah 3:8).” Sounds beautiful, but who was watching Moses’ hands? It couldn’t have been the soldiers engaged in battle; “Can we please pause our sword fight so I can look up toward Heaven?” It must have been the people safe inside the Clouds of Glory who were watching Moses. Did they stand around all day at the foot of the mountain watching, and immediately forget God when Moses lowered his hands? If they were looking up toward Moses on the mountain, why did he need to raise his hands?
This was the battle of “Zachor,” which means, “Remember.” We are commanded to remember how Amalek attacked Israel on their way from Egypt to Sinai. Moses raised his hands because he wanted the people inside the Cloud to remember that there was a war just outside the camp. The soldiers were doing their job. The people had to remember the soldiers during every moment of the battle. When the people stopped looking up toward Heaven in prayer for those who were engaged in battle, the soldiers lost their strength. They needed the people back home to remember them, and pray for them.
How often do we think of our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq who are fighting for their country? How many times a day do we pray for them? Do we “lower our hands,” and forget to look up toward Heaven and pray for their protection. How often do we remember the soldiers putting their lives on the line for Israel? Are we looking up at Moses’ hands reminding us to constantly think of them and pray? Do we forget them and stop looking up toward Heaven in prayer?
There are people all around us who are fighting wars against physical enemies, hunger, cruelty, ignorance, and hatred, and Moses points upward for us to remember them and pray, and yet…
Moses was criticized by God for his “Hands Pointed Up” approach. It’s all too easy to climb a mountain and look heavenward when someone else is doing the actual fighting. God wanted Moses to fight, not to be a Heaven Pointer. Heaven Pointing is a privilege we must first earn by being directly involved. Moses understood, which is why he raised his hands; he was teaching the people to use their hands to reach Heavenward. It wasn’t enough to for them to look up toward Moses; they had to reach upward, as was their teacher. It’s very easy to look up to Heaven in the safety of the Cloud. Looking up toward Heaven without reaching is not considered a commitment to Heaven. Moses lowered his hands and they forgot just like that, because they were looking without reaching.
Zachor is a call to reach, a summons to action; a message we will hear only when we “remember” those who are on the front lines of life directly engaged in the battle. We are commanded to “Remember” Shabbat by sanctifying it with action. We are commanded to “Remember” what happened to Miriam who spoke ill of her brother Moses and actively change our speech.
The best way to “Remember” is to actively reach higher. Write a letter to a soldier. Send a package. We can’t just look up; we have to reach.
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