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Torah reading:  Exodus 13:17 to 17:16
Haftarah:  Judges 4:4 to 5:31

In last week's D'var Torah by Bluebird of Happiness, one of the commenters stated:

Sigh: I still find it hard to belive

That anything justifies God slaughter children. Every time I hear the mention of Pharoah in the Bible / Torah, that's all I think about. Okay, colatteral damage if children aren't targets. But why does this god of Moses pick out the children to slaughter?

The commenter raises a good point, a point that has troubled theologians for 2 millenia.  This week we read of God's final slaughter of Egyptians - the drowning of the Egyptian soldiers in the Sea of Reeds (mistranslated as the Red Sea).

On the one hand, soldiers of the country with whom we are at war are the enemy - the evil hordes out to invade our homes and ravish our families.  On the other hand, enemy soldiers may be no different from "our" soldiers, 18, 19, 20 and 20ish boys, in previous wars drafted into a war they neither caused nor understood.  Today, with the draft gone, young men and women often enter the Armed Forces because they cannot otherwise find decent paying jobs.  Many enter the Armed Forces in the hope of obtaining training in valuable skills that will serve them in finding a good job upon their discharge.  Others are attracted by the government assistance in paying for a college education after completion of their military service.  

When I returned from the Vietnam War, there were no brass bands to greet me.  For many, I was a pariah, a symbol of a war they detested.  And World War II veterans told me it was my fault for losing the war.  But today, fortunately, we honor our soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, we understand the distinction between the politicians - many of whom dodged military service themselves - who sent them into harms ways, and the soldiers who risk death and maiming for the Bushes and Cheneys.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.  The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea.  Exodus 14:21-23.
Imagine you are one of these Egyptian soldiers.  Maybe you were just a teenager, plowing your parents' farm along the Nile, and passing soldiers grabbed you at sword point, forcing you into the Army.  Maybe your parents were beggars, hungry, jobless, little better off than the Israelite slaves.  The Army offers you three square meals a day, a roof over your head, and gainful employment.

But, you too suffered with the plagues.  You too suffered thirst when the Nile turned to blood. You experienced that infestation of frogs, and lice, and the swarms of insects.  Maybe the cavalry horse the Army gave you died in the 5th plague, many of the men in your unit also lost their horses, and now you have received a letter from back home - all your parents' cattle died in the 5th plague.  You yourself, and most others around you broke out in painful rashes - the boils of the 6th plague.  You barely survived the torrential hail.  Then a second letter from home - your family's crops were destroyed by the 8th plague of locusts.  You were terrified at the 9th plague of darkness, and then, the slaying of the first born.  Obviously, you were not the first born son. But you have read that third letter from home - your older brother, and your dad - also a first born male, are dead.

Now you stand on the shore of the Sea of Reeds and you watch the sea divide, and the Israelites fleeing on dry ground that only a few moments ago had been the ocean, with a wall of water to either side.  You have personally experienced and suffered the terror of Israel's God during the past weeks.  Do you have the slightest doubt of what is about to happen?  Do you have any doubt that this stupid and arrogant leader is sending you, and all of your comrades, to your deaths?

Let's step forward in history, to July 1st, 1916.  You are a British soldier in a miserable, rat infested trench on the Western Front, next to the Somme.  You have survived in the trenches for nearly two years.  You have seen what the generals call "offenses" - the men are sent "over the top" and get mowed down by German machine guns.  You yourself have fired the machine guns, mowing down the Germans charging your own trench.  You know that when your stupid and arrogant generals give you the order, "over the top", you will die.  You know that new tactics are necessary, but the stupid commanders don't understand.  But on July 1st, 1916, the order comes - "Over the top".  Thousands die the moment they climb out of the trench, thousands more survive a few seconds or a few minutes longer, before they fall victim to the machine guns. In just a few hours, nearly 20,000 of your comrades, and most likely you, will be dead, piled up in No Mans Land.

So it was at the Somme.  So it was at the Sea of Reeds.

In two places, Megillah 10b and Sanhedrin 39b, the Talmud, in one place citing Rabbi Yochanan and in the other Rabbi Yonatan, explained Exodus 14:20:

that the cloud came between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so that one could not come near the other through the night.
Said Rabbi Yochanan (or Rabbi Yonatan): The Ministering Angels [when they saw the Egyptian Army drowning] sought to sing in Song.  The Holy One, Blessed He replied: The works of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you are singing in Song?
When I see diaries on the Daily Kos in which the diarist proclaims his or her atheism, I have two contradictory thoughts:  First, I respect the religious, or non-religious views of others, and do not wish to argue.  But second, I want to reply that our Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic faith has evolved over the millenia.  The philosophy of the New Testament and the Talmud is an advancement of the philosophy of the Hebrew Scriptures, written many centuries earlier, as illustrated by Megillah 10b and Sandhedrin 39b.  And despite signs of regression in recent years, I would hope that the faith of Ghandi and King and Heschel will prevail over the politicized "faith" that speaks with such power today.  And I would hope that our religious faith will continue to evolve and inspire us to work for a better world, a world which will know no more war, in the Sea of Reeds, on the Somme, or in Afghanistan or in Israel-Palestine.

Shabbat Shalom


Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:12 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets , Extraterrestrial Anthropologists, Military Community Members of Daily Kos, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I salute you Sir (14+ / 0-)

    As a Jewish Vet, I would like to say THANK YOU for your service during a time that scumbag Americans misdirected their anger at you and should have directed it at the chicken {crap} politicians who hid their kids from service to fight a war they had no intention on winning!

    First, what is it you want us to pay taxes for? Tell me what I get and perhaps I'll buy it. --- Robert A. Heinlein

    by TMIAHM on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:56:55 PM PST

  •  Thanks for such a thoughtful presentation. (12+ / 0-)
    I want to reply that our Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic faith has evolved over the millenia.... And I would hope that our religious faith will continue to evolve and inspire us to work for a better world...

    I am certain the entire world shares this hope -- even those who have had no exposure to the Big Three.

    Very illuminating how you pulled the dilemma forward through time.

    For future reference: "Psychopaths" are born that way. "Sociopaths" are created by their culture. Both lack human empathy and both make suberb CEOs and bold leaders of nations.

    by Pluto on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 06:36:23 PM PST

    •  asdf (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      joelado, ramara, Amber6541, Pluto

      When I read people declaring their atheism, while I disagree for largely technical philosophical reasons, I feel what they're saying.

      Especially in America, where the Evangelical Taleban seem to rule so much of our public discourse—and then act like the victims!—and where you hear very little from the liberal side of religion (many of whom believe in a secular state and so don't engage in that mode of discourse) I don't blame them.

      In a world where religious institutions and their misguided beliefs have caused so much strife, I feel them.

      I also don't think atheism means immorality. In fact, atheism can mean a higher level of morality where people are doing the right thing just because it's the right thing to do and not because they're afraid of hell.

      But, I don't think religion is going away. And as long as it remains a powerful and influential voice, it cannot be ceded to those who use it for malign purposes.

      GOP: The Party of Acid rain, Abortion of the American Dream, and Amnesty for Wall Street.

      by Attorney at Arms on Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 09:23:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Very very good. Lyn MacDonald has written (9+ / 0-)

    a number of books about the First World War, they are based in large part on interviews of the survivors gathered in the mid to late 70s and early 80's, and letters and documents of the time.  There not the usual general's view of the war.  

    One of my favorites is The Roses of No Man's Land, about the nurses and the medical units in the war, a very different perspective indeed.

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 07:19:16 PM PST

    •  The best I have read (7+ / 0-)

      is Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth.  Her brother and her fiance both served and she went and served as a nurse.  Both brother and fiance were killed; paired with what she saw as a nurse, she became a strong pacifist and was maligned during WWII.

      This was the first book that helped me to see that war didn't take place an battlefields, but on farms and roads and villages where people lived.  It completely changed how I thought about war.

      A very thoughtful and thought-provoking d'var Torah, NVT.  

      Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

      by ramara on Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 01:15:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you and welcome home (10+ / 0-)

    something we still say to VN vets who never got that Welcome Home.  

    We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

    by Vetwife on Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 05:22:07 AM PST

  •  Thank you (6+ / 0-)

    and Shabbat Shalom~

    Be kind. It matters.

    by dakinishir on Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 05:47:26 AM PST

  •  This Goyishe Vietvet says thanks. (5+ / 0-)

    One might hope that the 19-and-20-somethings in the trenches and in the trailers twiddling their joysticks and doing their kick-ins and maneuver-and-fires would get, finally , that what's maybe needed is not "new tactics" but a way around the end-of-the-world impulse to "war."

    Tell the fucking Brass to go fight their OWN battles. Oh, wait -- as we approach an Empire with Clonedroids to do the destruction, it looks like they CAN... Where are the "cuts" going to be in the US War Department's budget, charging forward and once again over the top? Gee, do you suppose the grunts are going to take it in the neck from front AND rear?

    Oh, What A Lovely War!

    Now we are all gearing up for another uncontrollable spasm of world violence, brought to us by neocons all hot to bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran... And even our generals think it's maybe not such a good idea.

    Stupid humans...  Stupid fucking humans... sick to death with a surfeit of yetzer ra...

    "Is that all there is?" Peggy Lee.

    by jm214 on Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 07:55:34 AM PST

  •  Thank you for the commentary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I especially appreciated the last paragraph of your commentary, and wish you Sabbath blessings.

  •  I thank you for your diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It has become the sermon I get to listen to before delving into the one I must write.  It is good to be reminded and to hear with fresh ears.

    You are indeed a blessing.

    "Because inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened." -Terry Pratchett

    by revsue on Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 08:48:28 PM PST

  •  Just browsing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    whatGodmade, Navy Vet Terp

    R there really Jews here?  I love to read DKOS for stories I've missed but get really upset at some of the comments I feel offended, I've stayed away from here because of that-can I come back?

  •  A better answer. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    In dealing with G-ds there is always one rule, You are not to put your G-d to the test.

    A man walks along the street and finds a lottery ticket.
    Ahead he sees the good ladies of the Central Synagogue in NYC collecting for the poor.
    So he dumps the lottery ticket into the basket.
    G-d says the good ladies do good work, I will give them a winner.

    Across town, at NYU a student, Michael Bernstein studying mathematics looks at the statistics for the lottery and sees an anomaly.
    Michael working diligently finds other anomalies and pronounces the mathematics are wrong.
    Other mathematicians review the work and say no the mathematics is not wrong.

    So we have a quandary.
    Mathematics is a result of the free will of man.

    Therefore G-d did not change the lottery ticket.

    G-d deals in things spiritual not things physical or he/she puts man with his free will in the position of being able to put G-d to the test.

    Therefore G-d did not bring on the plagues that tested Egypt.
    G-d may have provide spiritual advice to Moses that the life style of the Egyptians was about to cause them hardships.
    The better answer is the free will of the Egyptians brought it on themselves and to a primitive people it was easy to blame it on G-d.

    •  with all respect (0+ / 0-)

      I believe our creator is bigger than anything. I believe He can control all things. I believe a way can be made with supplication and sincere repentance. As I understand this passage of scripture, all people were given a choice. Those under the leader have a choice - howbeit not a great freedom of choice, but a choice nonetheless. A soldier is trained to follow orders, no matter if they are right or wrong. But as a human there is always a choice. You choose who you are in this world. Are you that soldier to blindly follow? Some do choose that, but have regrets later. Some have so much faith in their leaders; it is an honor for them to willingly put their life on the line to defend what they hold dear to them.

      We all make choices and decisions for various reasons.

      We must live with our choices, and hopefully learn, grow, repent, appreciate, and value those experiences.

      Navy Vet Terp opened my eyes to a new way of seeing things. A different view. A view from someone who was doing the best they could under the circumstances. I think we have to keep G*d our focus in all things and in any problem we might have, put it all at His feet. If He is ... as I believe He is ... He CAN deliver us from any situation, but we must learn also so we do not continue into the same problems again and again.

      It makes me think of wars ... of veterans who risk their lives. I think of what they will come home to in today's day and time. I wonder if they are wondering much as the depiction of the young Egyptian in this diary. Why am I running to my death??

      If you are fighting for G*d ...and not fighting for a leader less than worthy, then there is no shame. The Israelites were following either G*d or Moses, and who they were sincerely following became evident over time. Moses was worthy to follow because he was being led by G*d. But if you are following a man for the wrong reasons ... you will surely have discontentment. I think the brave soldiers who died in Vietnam who were fighting in their heart and mind for G*d and what He stands for, died in peace, no matter how violent their death outwardly. I have much respect for most veterans because I would like to think their reasons are pure, defending their home and what the USA stands for.

      To not allow a people to go and worship G*d as they like ... it is not honorable. And those that followed the Pharaoh who fought to keep them away from their God ... were following the devil. Those who are blindly led ...will fall into a pit surely... A darkness that only inner repentance can lighten.

      I don't think it is a matter of G*d killing people, but showing that people's choices will lead to their own destruction if they make bad choices.

  •  from Chris Rice's Out Past the Edges (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    I hear that a God who's good would never let the evil run so long.
    I say, it's because you're good you're giving us more time here.
    -'Cause, I believe you love to show us mercy...

    Am I naive to want a remedy for every bitter heart?
    Can I believe you hold an exclamation point for every question mark?  Yeah
    -and can I leave the timing of the universe in bigger hands?
  •  you have given me so much to think about. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Navy Vet Terp

    This Diary has me thinking a lot. I know bad things happen to good people. I know I could have been holding a dead child on more than one occasion, but I was spared, yet another who loves G*d was not. Am I better than them?? Surely not. Who can know the plans of our creator? I know my life and the life of my children are in His hands. I know tomorrow is not promised to us. To me - your Diary made me think - not to take G*d for granted ... and many other things.

    Thank you so much for this Diary!

    •  Thanks for your very thoughtful response. n/t (0+ / 0-)

      "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here:

      by Kimball Cross on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 02:51:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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