It is said of our Holy Torah: “Study it and study it, for everything is in it.” Indeed, this is a literal truth. The sum of all knowledge in the universe is contained within the Holy Torah, for Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world. While some knowledge may be more easily discovered by us via the processes of secular science, it is only due to our lack of practical holiness and merit that this is so. Thus in every case, once we attain knowledge in any aspect of human endeavor or in any working of the universe, we can, in retrospect, point to the text of the Holy Torah and show how this very aspect is alluded to in it. In no aspect of knowledge is this more obvious than in the aspects of governance and warfare.
These past few weeks, we again read the parshiyot dealing with history’s first recorded national liberation struggle, the Exodus from Egypt. The Holy Torah focuses, as usual, on the big picture, glossing over and merely alluding to the small details that would only serve to distract the casual reader from the main narrative. Yet among these allusions there are, of course, lessons of tremendous value and wisdom. Among the many lessons we can learn from the story of the Exodus from Egypt is the lesson that redemption does not come to those who wait passively and groan for salvation. Indeed, passive waiting and groaning for miracles brings only increased suffering and hardship. But once we take positive actions according to a practical plan that is in accordance with the will of Hashem, He rewards us with miracles and Divine assistance, so that all our works are blessed and magnified beyond recognition. Indeed, this can be seen clearly from the story of the Exodus, so much so that we can clearly state that the story of the Exodus encodes for us the proper manner in which to fight a struggle for national liberation in all times.
In Parashat Shemot, passively bearing the lash and groaning for salvation gets Hashem to send Moshe to save the nation. Moshe goes straight to Pharaoh and demands that the Jewish People be set free. The result, as always at the beginning of a struggle for national liberation, is that oppression increases and the oppressor’s pet quislings blame the forces of national liberation. Pharaoh commands the Jews to go make bricks without straw. The Jewish overseers blame Moshe. For the average Jew on the street, things get worse rather than better.
At the beginning of Parashat Vaeira, the increased oppression seems to be working. The Jewish People will not even listen to Moshe because of hard work and lack of spirit. Moshe is despondent. Yet Hashem tells Moshe to buck up. He speaks to Moshe and Aaron and gives them a detailed plan to follow “regarding the Children of Israel and regarding Pharaoh, king of Egypt” (Vaeira 6:13). The Torah then focuses on the part of the plan accomplished by Hashem, the task of terrorizing and demoralizing the enemy that, in modern armed struggle, begins with the heroic efforts of Marighella cells striking independently at the oppressor. The part of the plan that pertains to the Children of Israel, the task of building an organized military force, a viable government and a national infrastructure, the part that in modern doctrinally correct armed struggle is played by the conventional guerrilla movement, proceeds almost invisibly in the background. Yet we see its effect clearly in Parashat Bo.
There is a great precision in the way Am Yisrael is described toward the end of the parshah:
וָיֽסְוּ בְנֵי-יֽשְרָאֵל מֵרַעְמְסֵס סֻכֹתָה כְשֵש-מֵאוֹת אֶלֶף רַגְלֵי הַגְבָרִים לְבַד מִטָף
This verse is usually mistranslated as “The Children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children”, or something similar. Consider, for a moment, the utter strangeness of such a translation. Why is the Torah giving an imprecise count? What, Hashem can’t count the children of Israel and provide an exact number? And if we are talking about a gaggle of some six hundred thousand civilians, why are men and children mentioned, but not women? And why does the next verse refer to the cattle and erev rav going with them? Why are the cattle in the same verse with the erev rav? After all, most of the cattle belong to the Children of Israel, not to the erev rav! Would it not be more appropriate to say something to the effect of “…six hundred thousand men, with their women and children and cattle”? What’s going on here?
Well, actually, things become much clearer if we know a little something about the armies of antiquity. The first thing we ought to know is that ancient armies, as opposed to mobs of barbarians, were organized into regular units. These units were often called after the approximate nominal number of effectives they originally mustered. Throughout history, the title of the unit’s leader was often derived from the name of the unit. The Roman centuria was led into battle by a centurio. A tuman of the Turkic steppe peoples was led into battle by an otaman. Even at the dawn of the modern age, a Cossack sotnya would be led into battle by a sotnik.
The second thing we ought to know is that the army’s infantry generally came in two types. The main body of seasoned, well-armed and often armored men formed the heavy infantry, the arm of decision, such as the hastati of the Roman manipular legion or the homoioi of the Spartan phalanx. The main body marched into battle in solid blocks of men fighting shoulder to shoulder with spears, swords, axes, maces and so forth. But before the main body there came a swarm of skirmishers armed with javelins, slings, bows and other such weapons. The task of the skirmishers was to sow confusion and disorder in the ranks of the enemy, breaking up his solid formations and softening him up for the blow of the heavy infantry. Wearing little or no armor, the skirmishers depended on the swiftness of their feet to escape from the enemy heavy infantry and to dodge the missiles launched by their opposite numbers from among the enemy. Armed with a bundle of javelins and a short sword, his only protection provided by a wolf’s skin and a small buckler, The Roman velite is the stereotypical skirmisher of antiquity.
Given the premier value placed on the skirmisher’s agility and his relatively inexpensive kit, it is no surprise to note that the skirmishers came from among the youngest warriors. If one could expect the average heavy infantryman to be a man in his twenties or thirties, the average skirmisher would be a teenager somewhere between fifteen and eighteen years of age. In other words, it is not at all unreasonable to refer to the skirmishers as “the kids” or “the youngsters”. Indeed, in due course, as they inherited their fathers’ expensive weapons and armor or amassed the wherewithal to acquire a set of their own, the skirmishers would “grow up” to be men of the heavy infantry.
Now that we understand this historical detail, we can look with new eyes at our Torah verse. What we are given is not a census, it is an order of battle. Just as the Roman centuria is an organized unit of something like 100 men led into battle by a centurio, so too is the Hebrew elef a unit of something like 1000 men, led into battle by an aluf. Just as the velites are “kids” compared to the men of a line centuria, so too the Hebrew skirmishers are “kids” compared to the men of an elef. Why are the women not mentioned in the verse? Because they are not there! This is an ORDER OF BATTLE for an army in an age when a weapon had only as much power as the muscles of the warrior wielding it. There can be no women in the ranks. Why are the cattle and the erev rav mentioned in the next verse and not in this one? Because the verse concerns itself with the Hebrew army, not with the mass of servants and provisions following behind it!
Thus we derive the real translation of our verse: “The Children of Israel marched from Rameses toward Sukkot, approximately 600 regiments of infantry, not counting the skirmishers.”
But why does the Torah not give us an exact count? Because some of the units are understrength and most are hastily trained. The Torah wants to emphasize and draw attention to the fact that what was previously nothing but a gaggle of slaves has, through a veritable miracle of hard work and dedication, been transformed into an army organized into well-ordered units in the space of approximately a year. Indeed, so important is this point, that the Torah repeats only a few lines later, in verse 51, that the Jewish People left Egypt “al-tsvaotam” – IN ORGANIZED MILITARY UNITS. Yet though much has been accomplished, this army is not perfect, or complete, or at full strength. It does not have 600 regiments. It has ABOUT 600 regiments.
In other words, while Hashem was busy laying Egypt prostrate with plague after plague, the Jewish People did not sit idly by reciting tehillim, as some foolish persons like to claim. Instead, as Egyptian society fell apart and Egyptian civil authorities had bigger problems to deal with, the Jewish People organized themselves, obtained arms, selected officers, trained themselves and otherwise ACTIVELY PREPARED to leave Egypt.
So effective were their preparations that the entire nation was able to leave Egypt on a single day, led by its newly-formed national army. And yet they did not permit “best” to become the enemy of “good enough”. When Hashem said “go”, they went with the forces they had, ready or not, well armed or not, full strength or not, and trusted in Him.
In parshat Beshalach, Pharaoh reconsiders his decision to let the Jews go and sets out in pursuit. It is noteworthy to examine what pharaoh does:
וַיִקַח שֵש-מֵאוֹת רֶכֶב בָחוּר וְכֺל רֶכֶב מִצְרָיֽם וְשָלִשִם עַל-כֻלוֹ
And he took six hundred firstborn chariots and all the chariots of Egypt, with thirties for them all.
In other words, pharaoh mobilizes the entire Egyptian army. The arm of decision for Egypt’s army is the chariot corps. Of these, six hundred elite units, “the firstborn”, comprise the king’s personal bodyguard. Each chariot goes into battle accompanied by supporting arms, cavalry and infantry, thirty men altogether. Josephus, no stranger to ancient warfare, estimates that each thirty comprises ten cavalrymen and twenty infantrymen. Therefore, at full muster, Pharaoh’s personal guard is a well balanced army of 19,800 men, with 600 chariots, 6,000 cavalry and 12,000 infantry. More than enough to defeat a mere gaggle of runaway slaves. Yet pharaoh is so alarmed by the size and organization of the Hebrew force he is about to confront that he calls up the entire armed forces of Egypt. Josephus estimates Pharaoh’s total force as comprising upwards of 250,000 men.
With this massive force at his disposal, Pharaoh sets out in pursuit. Yet when he comes upon the Hebrews, he is again in a quandary. Hashem instructs the children of Israel to “encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between the tower and the sea, before Lord-of-the-North”.
When we consider this description, we can understand Pharaoh’s problem. The Egyptian army’s strength is maneuver. Pharaoh would like to give battle on an open plain, where he can deploy his chariots and cavalry to the best possible effect. But here he is thwarted. The Jews are “hemmed in” by the wilderness. The Hebrew army is positioned on a sandy beach before the Sea of Reeds, in full view of an Egyptian watchtower, which is presumably part of a border fort called Pi-hahiroth. Lord-of-the-North is either a giant idol carved out of a sheer cliff or the cliff itself, depending on which commentator one chooses to agree with. And the Jews have been there for at least a day. Given Moshe’s own extensive military training as an Egyptian prince and nice soft sand to dig in, there is no doubt that the Hebrews have constructed field fortifications of some sort to protect their front. Most likely there is at least a ditch and a berm.
Therefore, here is Pharaoh’s problem: He is facing something around 600,000 infantrymen entrenched behind field fortifications, with one flank protected by the sea and the other anchored on a sheer cliff. To add to the misery, the soft sand of the beach is totally unsuitable for cavalry and chariot maneuver. In other words, this is no gaggle of hapless slaves fleeing for their lives, as some would like us to believe. This is an army occupying an extremely strong position.
Pharaoh is an experienced commander. As an Egyptian prince, he would have been given his first military command at age 13 and would have participated in numerous battles since. He is well aware that, barring the supernatural, this is going to turn into an infantry slugfest and/or a siege. On the plus side, the Jews aren’t going anywhere. Therefore, rather than attack from the march, Pharaoh orders his army into camp and prepares to give a set-piece battle in the morning.
On the face of it, Pharaoh is foolish. The Jews thoroughly outnumber his forces. Egyptian cavalry and chariots are of no use. Any fight will therefore be on the Hebrews’ terms, infantry versus infantry. But battles are not decided by numbers alone. For all the numbers and imposing appearance of the Hebrews, they are still slaves at heart. Their lack of self-confidence in the face of their erstwhile Egyptian masters is glaring. Were the Hebrews a real army, like Egypt’s perennial enemies the Hittites, they would have attacked Pharaoh’s approaching column and sought to defeat it in detail. Yet instead six hundred thousand armed men cower behind field fortifications in the face of an Egyptian force a little over a third their number! Pharaoh has good reason to be confident that, come morning, his 250,000 military professionals will make short work of this rabble.
Indeed, Pharaoh is correct in his assessment, as the Torah proceeds to tell us. No sooner do the Jews see the approaching Egyptian host as panic sets in. The most cowardly want to surrender outright and return to slavery in Egypt. Other cowards counsel mass suicide. Yet others drop their arms and wail pitifully for Hashem to save them. Only a small minority closes ranks and prepares to fight. The entire disgusting display earns a stern rebuke from Hashem:
וַיֹמֶר יהוה אֶל-מֺשֶה מַהֿתִצְעַק אֵלָי דַבֵר אֶל-בְנֵי-יִשְרָאֵל וְיִסָוּ
And the Lord said to Moshe: “Why are you crying out to me? Speak to the children of Israel and act!”
The point could not be clearer. Those who cry out to Hashem instead of acting rationally in response to danger draw the ire of Hashem. Hashem does not want the Jews to wrap themselves in their tallitot and wail piteously, like the hapless slaves-at-heart did at the Sea of Reeds and like the hapless slaves-at-heart did in Gush Katif. He wants us to ACT!
Indeed, to emphasize this point, Hashem orders Moshe to stretch out his arm over the sea. Why would Hashem ask this? Can He not split the sea without Moshe stretching out his arm? Of course he can! Moshe is asked to perform a symbolic ACT specifically to underline the need for POSITIVE ACTION in order to merit Divine assistance. It is only after Moshe stretches out his hand over the sea, only after Nachshon ben Aminadav walks into the sea until the water rises over his nose, that the Sea of Reeds actually splits. Only after POSITIVE ACTION is taken by the leaders of the Jewish People does the sea part, the people walk across on dry land, the pursuing Egyptians are drowned and the nation is redeemed. The lesson is clear: without positive action, there is no redemption.
Our sages tell us that the final redemption will be as the redemption from Egypt. Indeed, history bears them out. Two millennia of rabbinical students reciting tehillim did not return the Jewish People to Eretz Yisrael. All the piteous wailing brought us were pogroms upon pogroms and oppressions upon oppressions, culminating in the Holocaust. But less than a century of godless communists actively planning and building forces to conquer the Holy Land in the name of the Jewish People brought wonders upon wonders and miracles upon miracles, culminating in the establishment and continued preservation of a Jewish-majority national entity in the Holy Land.
Yet in the face of such clear lessons, both from the Torah and from recent history, what does the dati leumi community do when confronted by an existential crisis, an elitist plot to exterminate it even if doing so destroys the State of Israel? Why it depends on miracles, waves orange ribbons and calls for giant pray-ins at the Kotel! Even the few Jewish activists who understand the need to either overthrow the current Israeli regime or to secede from it and establish Medinat Yehudah are not immune from this disease.
Consider, for example the magnificent self-sacrifice of Dr. Baruch Goldstein (z”l), who singlehandedly confronted a raging mob of murderous pogromschiks riling themselves up to massacre the Jews of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, killing and wounding over 150 of the Amalekite monsters before he was overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers.
Why did Dr. Goldstein feel compelled to commit heroic suicide? Was it not because there was no other way to save the community? Was it not because even those who were about to be massacred, even his fellow Medinat Yehudah activists, were not willing to confront the Islamic enemy en masse and to defend the community, preferring instead to cower behind the kapos of the IDF? Was it not because even when confronted by glaring proof that the IDF was in cahoots with Hamas, even as Israeli troops were being deliberately pulled out in order to expose the Jews of Hebron to attack, those who were supposed to lead the community instead sat on their rear ends and wailed piteously for someone to save them?
And has twenty years changed anything? When rockets fall on Sderot, do the people of Sderot confront the IDF, take away its useless cannons and its rifles and return fire against Gaza? No! They burn tires and wail for the IDF kapos to stop uselessly shelling empty fields and take some kind of action to defend Sderot!
When Shlomo Netiv was murdered in Bat Ayin, did the Jews of Bat Ayin direct their anger where it belongs – at the IDF kapos who daily prevent them from defending their community? Did they chase the IDF out of town in a shower of rocks, curses and garbage and establish their own security? No! They wailed for more IDF “protection”!
And when Tzir Zion was opened again to Moslem traffic in a deliberate IDF effort to kill more Jews in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, did the Jews of Hebron forcibly expel the IDF and close the road? Did they plant bombs on the road in order to attack Moslem traffic and deny the Israelis’ Hamas stooges free use of the road? No! They wailed and wrote blogs!
Like little children crying for daddy to fix everything without their lifting a finger, the infantile dati leumi community expects Hashem to just miraculously sweep aside the Israeli erev rav and establish a Jewish State to replace the corrupt abomination called Medinat Israel! Well it doesn’t work this way! The Holy Torah is clear – if you want redemption, you must merit it WITH PRACTICAL DEEDS.
In our case, the necessary practical deeds are obvious. For sixty years, we have been stuck in a shotgun marriage with the godless Israeli State. At first, the conditions were tolerable. But now this marriage is a shambles. We are abused, insulted and demeaned on a daily basis. It’s time for a divorce. It’s time for us to part ways with the State of Israel. Let us, therefore, demand our fair share of the common assets, take what is ours and go our own way.
The dati leumi form 66% of the combat arms manpower of the IDF. In the last election, two thirds of halachically Jewish persons in the Holy Land, the real Jews, voted for parties of the so-called right or did not vote at all. One third, the Israelis, voted for Kadima and other parties of the so-called left. Of the halachically Jewish persons living in Eretz Yisrael, well over two thirds consider themselves either Orthodox or “traditional”. Fewer than a third consider themselves fully “secular”. We Jews are the majority. But the Israeli minority controls the organs of the State, and this minority will not be dislodged without civil war. We do not want a civil war and neither do they. But if things continue as they are, civil war is inevitable. Unless we first have an orderly partition.
So let us be clear. Medinat Yehudah will not be a state of the so-called settlers, nor will it be confined to the tiny territory of Yosh alone. The so-called settlers must be the revolutionary vanguard of Medinat Yehudah and Yosh must be Judah’s birthplace. But the vanguard is just that — a vanguard. Let us lay claim to that which is ours — at minimum two thirds of the assets and two thirds of the territory of the present-day State of Israel. And the only reason we are willing to settle for so little is not because the claims of the Israelis have any right or legitimacy, but because we find it a distasteful prospect to round up and execute the 2 million Israelis who stand in our way, nor do we wish to rule by force over an alien people.
And let us be clear about one more thing. We are not Artsakh, a remote mountainous region of limited importance at the outskirts of the Islamic World. We are Medinat Yehudah, a nation in the very heart of the territory Islam claims as its own. Our independence will threaten the legitimacy and ultimately the very existence of Islam. The Moslems know this. They will do everything in their power to prevent this.
In our war of independence, the Moslem enemy will field something on the order of 1.5 million men, at least ten thousand tanks, something on the order of thirty or forty thousand light armored vehicles and upwards of five thousand combat aircraft. Among this gear will be thousands of M1A2SEP tanks and Bradley-equivalent infantry fighting vehicles brought to the fight by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. There will be hundreds of excellent F-16 and F-15, not to mention perfectly good MIG-29 fighter-bombers. Nor will our enemy consist solely of hordes of incompetent fanatics. It is true that the Syrians, the so-called Palestinians and the various jihadist volunteers from all over the Moslem world will be dubiously trained at best. But the highly competent Jordanian and Egyptian armies will commit hundreds of thousands of well-trained soldiers and Hezbollah will certainly commit virtually its entire force of crack light infantry, the same troops who fought the IDF to a standstill in the Second Lebanon War.
To expect that this massive array of forces can be defeated simply by davening them away is not merely laughable, it is criminal and heretical. We must stop acting like children wishing for daddy to make it all go away and adopt a realistic, adult approach to the problem. We must prepare. We must take concrete, practical steps to create free zones ruled by practical, sensible, realistic Jewish law, zones where the IDF dares not enter. We must use these zones to train forces, build infrastructure and ultimately create the conditions for an orderly partition of the territories and assets currently held by the State of Israel. We must ensure that the war of independence is fought in phases, that our enemies are divided and mistrustful of one another, that their forces piecemeal into us rather than attacking us all at once. If this means that, for example, we let the Israelis temporarily keep the Negev so that the Egyptians cannot attack us at the same time as the Syrians, so be it. If it means that we must tolerate an Israeli presence in the Jordan valley even as we build a de-facto state in the heart of Yosh and fight full scale pitched battles for control of Hebron, Shchem and Ramallah, so be it. If this means we have to make some kind of covert handshake agreement to keep Jordanian involvement to a minimum, so be it. If this means we have to take funds and volunteers from the Christian world regardless of the strings that come attached to this aid, so be it.
It is not enough to daven to Hashem for a miracle. He will not act on our behalf unless we show Him that we are serious by taking realistic, practical actions. We must ensure that we have the forces, the funds and the materiel to prevail with His help, but without depending on miracles. This will not be an overnight process. Unless the Mashiach comes, no one can wave a magic wand and make Medinat Yehudah a reality tomorrow. And if we do not work towards it step by step, Medinat Yehudah will never happen.
It is time for an end to infantilism among the dati leumi community. We will never build Medinat Yehudah by sitting on some hilltop in Yosh in a bunch of paper caravans, waving an orange ribbon, calling a press conference and proclaiming independence with two rifles, a pistol and a chumash for defense. It is time to grow up, face the problems squarely and solve them practically. And if we do not do so, the Jews of the Holy Land will all die.
7 Adar, 5770