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 beliveThe 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).
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?
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.