Zohar

Shemot/Exodus

PARSHA BESHALAH

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THEN CAME AMALEK AND FOUGHT WITH ISRAEL IN REPHIDIM. R. Jose quoted in connection with this the following verse: Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass (Isa. XXXII, 20). ‘Water’, he said, ‘has many symbolic meanings: there are many kinds of water. Blessed are the Israelites who “sow beside the water”-the water which is under the branches of the Holy One's Tree, a Tree great and mighty, containing food for the whole universe. This Tree is encompassed by twelve frontiers and adjoins all four sides of the world, and has seventy branches, and Israel is in the “body” of the Tree, and the seventy branches encompass her. This is symbolized by the “twelve wells of water and the threescore and ten palm trees”, as we have often explained. But what do the words “and they encamped there by the water” signify? This. At that time the Israelites had control over the waters which are under the branches of that Tree, those which are called “the insolent waters,’ (Ps. CXXIV, 5). And this is the meaning of the words, “blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass”, namely, the two “Crowns of the Left”, to which are attached the pagan nations who are called “ox and ass”. When the Israelites are worthy, then they dismiss these evil powers, and they have no dominion over them.’ Said R. Abba: ‘When the two (i.e. the ox and the ass) are united, the inhabitants of the world cannot stand up against them. For this reason

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it is prohibited to “plough with an ox and an ass together” (Deut. XXII, 10). From them, when united, emanates the power, called “dog”, which is more insolent than all of them. Said the Holy One, blessed be He: “Ye said, ‘is the Lord in our midst or not?’ Behold, I will deliver you to the dog!”, and straightway came Amalek.’

R. Judah said: ‘It is written, “Amalek is the first of the nations; but his latter end shall be that he perish for ever” (Num. XXIV, 20). Was, then, Amalek the first of the nations? Were there not many tribes, nations, and peoples in the world before Amalek came? But the meaning is that Amalek was the first nation who feared not to proclaim war against Israel, as it says, “and he feared not God” (Deut. XXIV, 18); whilst the other nations were filled with fear and trembling before Israel at the time of the Exodus, as it says: “The peoples heard and were afraid; trembling took hold of the inhabitants of Pelesheth” (Ex. xv, 14); in fact, apart from Amalek there was no nation that was not awestruck before the mighty works of the Holy One, blessed be He. Therefore “his latter end shall be that he perish for ever”.’

Said R. Eleazar: ‘Observe that although the “Rock “ (i.e. Geburah, Severity) dealt graciously with them in supplying them with water, yet it did not cease to perform its natural function, so that “Amalek came”.’ R. Abba discoursed on the verse: There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt” (Eccl. v, 13). ‘ “There is a sore evil.” Are there then two kinds of evil, one that is sore, and another that is not sore? Yes, indeed! There is a particularly sore evil, for we have a tradition that from the Side of the Left emanate many emissaries of punishment who go down to the hollow of the great Sea, and then emerge in a body and, cleaving the air, advance upon the sons of men. Each one of them is called “evil”, and it is to this that the words “there shall no evil befall thee” (Ps. xc, l0) refer.

When a certain one of these “evils” befalls a man, it makes him miserly with his money, so that when a collector for charity or a poor man comes to him it strikes his hand saylng, “do not impoverish yourself”. It will not even let him buy food for himself. In fact, from the moment that that “evil” comes upon the man, he is “sore” like a sick man who can neither eat nor drink. King Solomon proclaimed in his wisdom: “There is an evil which I have seen under the sun... A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him no power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it” (Eccl. VI, 1-2). On the surface, the end of this verse would appear to contradict the beginning: if God has given him riches, etc., how can we say that he has no power over it? The meaning, however, is that he has no power over that “evil” to which he clings and entrusts himself, and therefore he is like a sick man who does not eat, nor drink, and he keeps his money tight until he leaves this world and another man comes and takes possession of it, and becomes its master.’ We may also explain the verse as follows. When a young man who lives at ease in his father's house begins to make

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all sorts of complaints and demands, saying, “I want this, and I do not want that”, he attaches himself to that “sore evil”, and he will be punished both in this world and in the world to come. Concerning such a case, King Solomon said: “There is a sore evil... riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.” Such was the case of the Israelites: the Holy One, blessed be He, carried them on eagles’ wings, encircled them with the clouds of glory, made the Shekinah go before them, gave them manna to eat, and sweet water to drink, and yet they complained! Hence, “and Amalek came”.

R. Simeon said: ‘There is a deep allusion in the name “Rephidim”. This war emanated from the attribute of Severe Judgement and it was a war above and a war below. The Holy One, as it were, said: “when Israel is worthy below My power prevails in the universe; but when Israel is found to be unworthy she weakens My power above, and the power of severe judgement predominates in the world.’ So here, “Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim”, because the Israelites were “weak” (raphe) in thJe.study of the Torah, as we have explained on another occasion.’ AND MOSES SAID UNTO JOSHUA, CHOOSE US OUT MEN, AND GO OUT, FIGHT WITH AMALEK. Why did Moses abstain from fighting the first battle which God Himself commanded? Because he was able to divine the true meaning of his Master's command. Hence he said: “I will prepare myself for the war above, and thou, Joshua, prepare thyself for the war below.” This is the meaning of the words :”When Moses lifted up his hand, Israel prevailed” (Ibid. v, 11), namely Israel above. Therefore Moses did not participate in the war on earth, so that he might throw himself with greater zeal into the war in Heaven, and thus promote victory on earth. Said R. Simeon: ‘Let us not think lightly of this war with Amalek. Verily, from the creation of the world until then, and since then till the coming of the Messiah, there has been and will be no war like that, nor can even the war of Gog and Magog be compared with it; and this not because of the mighty armies taking part in it, but because it was launched against all the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He.’ AND MOSES SAID TO JOSHUA. Why to him, who was then but a “youth” (Ex. XXXIII, 11)? Were there in Israel no greater warriors than Joshua? The reason was that Moses in his wisdom was aware that it was not going to be merely a battle against flesh and blood, but against Samael, who was coming down to assist Amalek. Now Joshua, “the youth”, had reached at that time a high degree of spiritual perception, not, indeed, as high as Moses, who was united with the Shekinah, but his soul was, in fact, attached to the supernal region called “Youth” (=Metatron).

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Now when Moses perceived that Samael was going to fight for Amalek, he thought: “this young man, Joshua, will surely stand against him and prevail”, and therefore he said unto him: “go and fight against Amalek! It is thy battle, the battle here below, and I will prepare myself for the battle above. Choose worthy men, righteous and the sons of the righteous, to accompany thee”.’ Said R. Simeon: ‘At the moment when Joshua, the “young man”, started out to fight Amalek, the “Young Man” above was stirred, and was equipped with weapons prepared by his “Mother” (the Shekinah) for the battle in order to “avenge the covenant” (cf. Lev. XXVI, 25) with the “sword” (Ex. XVII, 13). Moses equipped himself for the war above. “His hands were heavy” (Ibid. v, 12), that is to say, “weighty, honourable, holy hands”, that had never been defiled, hands worthy to wage the war above. AND THEY TOOK A STONE AND PUT IT UNDER HIM AND HE SAT THEREON: to participate in the distress of Israel. AND AARON AND HUR STAYED UP HIS HANDS, THE ONE ON THE ONE SIDE, AND THE OTHER ON THE OTHER SIDE: AND HIS HANDS WERE STEADY (emunah, lit. faith). This cannot be taken in the literal sense; what it means is that Aaron represented his “side” (the attribute of Grace), Hur his “side” (the attribute of Strength), and Moses’ hands between the two represented Faith. AND IT CAME TO PASS THAT WHEN MOSES HELD UP HIS HAND, ISRAEL PREVAILED, AND WHEN HE LET DOWN HIS HAND, AMALEK PREVAILED.

“Hand ‘ here refers to the right hand, which he held up above the left, and so long as he did so, Israel, i.e. the Supernal Israel, prevailed; but when Israel below ceased praying Moses could not keep his hand up and “Amalek prevailed”. From which we derive the lesson that, although the priest spreads out his hands at the sacrifice to make his mediation complete, yet Israel must co-operate with him in prayer. AND THE LORD SAID UNTO MOSES, WRITE THIS FOR A MEMORIAL IN THE BOOK, ETC. Note that in the previous verse it says, “And Joshua disabled (vayahlosh) Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.” Why is the word “ disabled” used here instead of “slew”? Because the word halash has also another meaning, namely, “to cast lots” (cf. Isa. XIV, 2). Joshua did indeed first cast lots, .[Tr. note: i.e. as to which of the multitude of nations that Amalek brought with him (vide infra) should first be put to the sword.] and then the sword, executing the vengenace of the covenant, slew them. WRITE THIS FOR A MEMORIAL: “this” in the first place, AND REHEARSE IT IN THE EARS OF JOSHUA, namely, that he is destined to slay other kings. FOR I WILL UTTERLY BLOT OUT (lit. for blotting out I will blot out); that is, both their celestial forces and their power here below: similarly THE REMEMBRANCE of them on high as well as below. Said R. Isaac: ‘Here it is written: “For I will utterly blot out”, whereas in another passage it says, “Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek” (Deut. xxv, 19). The Holy One, blessed be He, said in effect: “Ye shall blot out his remembrance on earth, and I will blot out his remembrance on high”.’ R. Jose said: ‘Amalek brought with him other peoples, but all the rest were afraid to commence war against Israel. Hence Joshua cast lots which of them to slay.’ AND MOSES BUILT AN ALTAR AND CALLED THE NAME OF IT TETRAGRAMMATON NISSI (the Lord is my sign). He built an altar below to correspond to the Altar above.

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R. Jose said: ‘The altar was intended to bring atonement and forgiveness to them. “He called the name”, namely the name of the altar, “TETRAGRAMMATON NISSI”, just as Jacob called the altar which he built El Elohe Yisroel, “the God, the God of Israel” (Gen. XXXIII, 20).’ He meant to indicate that the miracle was wrought for them because they had been properly circumcised, so that the sign of the Covenant was visibly imprinted upon them. Hence we learn that when a father performs the act of circumcision on his son, revealing the impress of the sign of the holy Covenant, the sacrificial act is, as it were, an altar of propitiation.

R. Jose said: ‘How are we to understand the words, “and they saw the God of Israel” (Ex. XXIV, 10)? Who can see the Holy One? Is it not written: “No man can see Me and live”? It means that a rainbow appeared above them in radiant colours resplendent with the beauty of His grace. Therefore the saying that he who gazes at a rainbow gazes, as it were, at the Shekinah. For the same reason it is not right to look at the fingers of the priests when they spread out their hands to bless the people (the Shekinah “showing Herself through the lattice”, i.e. through the priests’ fingers).’ R. Jose further said: ‘They saw the light of the Shekinah, namely him who is called “the Youth” (Metratron-Henoch), and who ministers to the Shekinah in the heavenly Sanctuary. As for the “paved work of a sapphire brick” mentioned in the same verse, this was an impression of one of the bricks with which the Egyptians “embittered” the lives of the children of Israel (Ex. I, 14). There is a story concerning a Hebrew woman in Egypt who, when a child was born to her, being in fear of Pharaoh's decree, hid him under a brick. Then a hand was stretched out, took hold of the brick, and placed it under the “feet” of the Shekinah. There it remained until the earthly Temple was burned down. It is concerning this that it is written in the book of Lamentations (II, 1): “He remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger.” Said R. Hiya: ‘The radiance of the Sapphire extended towards seventy-two sides’ (in accordance with the seventy-two Divine Names).

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[Note: The first 3 lines of the Hebrew text do not appear in the translation.] THE LORD WILL HAVE WAR WITH AMALEK FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION. R. Judah said: There never was a generation of men, nor ever will be, in this world without this evil seed, and the Holy One, blessed be He, carries on His war against it. Of such it is written: “Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Hallelukah!” (Ps. CIV, 35).’

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