Shooting at the Walls of Heartache: Beshallach 2020

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How would you define the idea of “fighting spirit”? When have you needed to display it? Is it difficult for you to conjure it up, or does it happen naturally?

When the Israelites celebrate their exodus after the miracle at the Sea, they attribute their victory to God’s fighting spirit:

The Pitch: “The Lord, the Warrior – Lord is His name!” – Exodus 15:3

Swing #1: “Mercy is the deepest expression of the divine essence. This startling verse above associating God with warmaking begins and concludes with that Name of God as if to say that God remains in essence the same before and after wartime. A human being cannot but be changed after involvement with violence. Only God can emerge on the other side of violence unscathed.” – Sheldon Lewis, The Torah of Reconciliation

Swing #2: “Within the book of Exodus, the author ponders the destructive nature of Israel’s God, who is described as both warrior and healer. … The rest of the story of YHWH’s interaction with the chosen people in the Pentateuch shows how mercy trumps justice as an exiled people is finally poised to enter the land of promise.” – James L. Crenshaw, Defending God: Biblical Responses to the Problems of Evil

Swing #3: “Read in the context of the Ancient Near East, where battles were won because the deity was on one’s side and battles were lost as punishment from the god or goddess for offenses, the presence of Yahweh as divine warrior in the conquest narrative is reasonable. … This bold statement is the first explicit mention in Scripture of the warlike nature of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Helene M. Dallaire, “Divine Violence in Joshua”, from Wrestling with the Violence of God: Soundings in the Old Testament, M. Daniel Carroll R. and J. Blair Wilgus, Ed.

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand the Israelites’ recognition of God as a warrior? To what extent does God’s fighting spirit define God? Is it possible for us to imitate God in mastering both justice and mercy? Must fighters always embrace conflict?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: As Emanu-El welcomes a rabbinic candidate this weekend, it also should be noted that COSY Shabbat will take place at Saturday morning services this week. It’s always worthwhile to celebrate the everything our USY teens bring to the congregation.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of fighting, the fighting spirit of the World Champion 2004 Boston Red Sox is often traced back to a brawl started by Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek against New York Yankees third-baseman Alex Rodriguez. Should a team’s inspiration come from a violent start?

Shabbat Shalom!