Are you feeling helpless as you witness Amalek destroying the world piece by piece? Are you feeling hopeless as you watch their well-positioned collaborators, the Erev Rav, betraying the Jewish people from within? Do you believe that it doesn’t really matter what we do, and a dramatic turnaround is unrealistic?
This message is for you.
Jewish history offers many examples of victories over far mightier enemies, when it seemed impossible. In fact, we rarely win unless we are at a severe disadvantage. Otherwise, it would be too easy for Israel and the rest of the world to mistakenly believe “our might and the power of our own hand” deserve the credit, instead of God Himself. Even so, they usually do.
If asked to list some of the most inspirational military victories in Jewish history, most people’s responses would be nearly identical. Chanukah, Purim, maybe the Six-Day war and Bar Kochba’s rebellion, maybe even the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. All of these are fine examples, but they were also somewhat Pyrrhic. Even the miracle of Purim concludes with Achashverosh raising taxes and galus Jews settling back into their cozy galus mentality after the periodic wake-up call.
Even when he celebrates the victories, the understanding Jew is left with a bittersweet feeling. With the exception of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which was a heroic last stand, the victories were also missed opportunities. As gloriously as we consider them from the comfortable perch of hindsight, we would hardly dream of having been there and experiencing these events for ourselves.
Ironically, some of our most inspirational military victories are hardly known, let alone commemorated. Consider the following example from Tanach, which is not a mere record of Jewish history, but prophetic instruction that was recorded specifically because we need to know it in every generation. Including now.
I refer to Shmuel I chapters 13-14. Israel was facing perhaps the most impossible odds in its impossible history. The Pelishtim inflicted terror over much of the land (as their unrelated namesakes do today), and many Jewish cities were under their direct control. Shortly after Shaul became the first Jewish king, he raised a small army and rebelled against the Pelishtim. His son, Yonasan, assassinated the Pelishti governor who ruled over Givat Binyamin. War was inevitable.
The Pelishtim gathered a massive force: 30,000 chariots (the ancient equivalent of tanks), 6000 horse riders, and foot soldiers “like the sand of the sea”. The Jews who lived in the area hid wherever they could, in caves, pits, and the like.
Shaul’s force was somewhat less than the sand of the sea. As the two sides camped opposite one another (wars used to be straightforward) Shaul counted the motley crew that answered his call. About 600 men in all.
Oh, and they didn’t have any weapons.
They weren’t just ridiculously outnumbered, they literally had no weapons. Zero. The Pelishtim controlled Israel to the extent that they outlawed Jews from being blacksmiths, lest they fashion weapons. Farmers who needed to sharpen their instruments were forced to travel south to the Pelishtim or make do with a rudimentary sharpening tool.
As a result, Shaul and his men didn’t have a single sword or spear in their possession when they gathered for battle. Weapons for Shaul and Yonasan were later miraculously “found”, but that was it.
It’s easy to rush through these stories in Tanach like a comic book, but stop and think about this. These were real people and this really happened.
Imagine if you were there. Life under the Pelishtim wasn’t easy, but you tried to stay out of their way, and were getting along. Suddenly your new Jewish king, the Moshiach of Hashem, decided he was going to overthrow the powerful enemies who ruled the land, just like that. He was a righteous man with a successful military track record, sure, but was he out of his mind?
The Palestine Post and the Times of Israel, hoping to curry favor with their gentile masters, railed against this right-wing extremist, this religious warmonger with Messianic delusions. Even the religious media decried his irresponsible actions that threatened the status quo. They accused him of endangering the entire country to score points with his political base. Many leading rabbis groveled to the Pelishtim, perhaps even urging their followers to cover their faces as a sign of subservience.
Shaul blew the shofar and called for Jews to join him in battle. Come as you are, no weapons necessary.
Would you have answered this call? By any reasonable assessment, this wasn’t a war – it was a suicide mission. It was madness.
Of course, with Hashem on our side the Pelishtim didn’t have a chance, and their massive army was decimated. But that, at least to me, isn’t the most remarkable thing about this story. Nor is the fact that Yonasan began the battle with a vigilante mission, just him and his arms bearer, ambushing the massive Pelishtim army, and beginning to slaughter them by themselves.
No, the most remarkable thing about this story is that approximately 600 Jews answered Shaul’s call. Come join your new king to face 30,000 chariots, 6000 horse riders, and an army like the sand of the sea, with your bare hands and faith. Who’s with me?
What sort of conversations did these men have with their families before leaving to join Shaul? What did people say to them in shul? Did their rabbis encourage them, or instruct them not to risk their lives – pikuach nefesh! What sort of comments would they have received on social media? Granted, the prophet Shmuel was behind Shaul and this war, but still. We have to be rational. We’re not pessimistic, we’re realistic. Pikuach nefesh!
We might be disappointed that 600,000 Jews didn’t answer the call – after all, we know the end of the story – but we should be amazed that 600 did, empty-handed.
To me, this is perhaps the most inspirational victory in Jewish history. Not so much for the long odds we faced – that’s more the rule than the exception – but because 600 men showed up with no weapons, no plan, and no idea what they were doing. And they weren’t crazy.
I don’t know if they expected to win; there were no guarantees that they would come back alive either way. The only thing they knew for sure was that it was Hashem’s will for them to answer the call. So they didn’t make calculations. They showed up.
There’s an even deeper lesson here than the incredible faith these 600 men displayed. Even though Hashem was fighting for them, and therefore the numbers didn’t matter, they still had a mitzvah to show up. Hashem could have saved them just the same if they all stayed home, but that wasn’t His will. The Jewish people need to gather together and represent Hashem, even if they have no weapons and there’s nothing more they can do. Hashem will fight the battle, but they have to show up first.
I don’t know what the critical mass is, but in this case, 600 people was enough. We don’t know their names or anything else about them, but these anonymous heroes, regular people who answered the call, merited salvation for the entire nation.
I think of this story because it is especially relevant in our times. We are oppressed by the Erev Rav who rule over our land and the Amalekites with whom they collaborate. Unlike previous eras, this is a worldwide phenomenon. Just as the Jews under the Pelishtim couldn’t even sharpen their farming tools without “government authorization”, Chinese citizens have digital codes burned into their kitchen knives. This is what they have in mind for all of us, assuming they spare us food that needs to be cut. The enemies of God and His creation control almost everything, and they are working on the little that still remains to us.
It is unrealistic that we can defeat them. Considering the conditioning of the masses and the ubiquitous surveillance, the deck is stacked against us. We can make some noise and try to wake people up to reality, but not much else. We couldn’t win this war with conventional weapons, even if we had them.
As discouraging as that is, it doesn’t really matter. The shofar that every Jew should hear is not calling us to bring weapons or start a physical battle. It is calling us to stand up and show up, together, and represent Hashem. We have to stare our enemies in the eye and say to them in no uncertain terms that we are Jews, real Jews, and we will not submit to them – not in our land, not anymore.
We will not cover our faces with harmful, dehumanizing masks, no matter what.
We will not submit to medical tyranny, no matter what.
We will not let them indoctrinate our children with filth, no matter what.
We will not surrender even one letter of the Torah or allow them to defile the sacred, no matter what.
I don’t know what the critical mass of people is for Hashem to say “Enough!” and redeem us. I suspect it is more than 600, since this time it’s the big one, but it’s probably not in the millions, either. Each one of us who shows up counts for a lot.
We face impossible odds – just the way Hashem wants it. When enough of us answer the call, our enemies don’t stand a chance.
Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the author of hundreds of articles and seven books on a wide range of subjects. He is also the director and producer of a documentary, Single Jewish Male, and a series of short films. His work can be found at chananyaweissman.com and rumble.com/c/c-782463. He can be contacted at email@example.com.