Handy Symbols

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Beshalach symbols

“All things are symbols” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Israelites found themselves at war with Amalek and Joshua was charged with leading the Israelite warriors into battle. As they skirmish, Moses sat on top of the hill with the staff in his hand. When Moses raised his hand to the sky, the Israelites prevailed and when his hand tired the Israelites were overcome by the Amalekites.

After the Israelites won the war Moses built an altar and made a cryptic proclamation: “for the hand is on the throne of God, a war of God against Amalek, from generation to generation.”

There are many interpretations of this peculiar statement. Whose hand? Why is it on the throne? What does that mean?

To me, the simplest reading of this verse sounds like this hand on the throne is a reference to the hand of Moses that influenced the war.

Moses lifted his hand and touched the throne with his hand. When his hand was on the throne, the Israelites were victorious. Moses is proclaiming that the secret to defeating Amalek is to understand the raised hand was not aimlessly waving in the air. The hand was on the throne of the Almighty. The secret to winning the war against Amalek for generations is not the hand that you saw, it is the hand that attaches itself to the throne that wins the war.

Symbols play a huge role in our lives. Judaism is full of symbols. There is a danger in symbols when they become the focal point instead of the thing they symbolize. Moses would not allow the Israelites to think that his hands  – the symbol – were the thing that won the war. Moses tells the Israelites that it was the hand that connected to the throne – another symbol – that they should remember for generations.

We use symbols all the time. Some of them are old traditional symbols but we also make our own symbols. We also encounter symbols in conversation and communication. Symbols can be very helpful. They are visualizations and dramatizations of deeper things that we cannot always see in our mind’s eye.

We also have a tendency to get caught up in the details or minutiae of the symbol. Sometimes that can make the symbol more powerful but it can also ruin the symbol and distract us from the more important thing that the symbol is meant to represent.

Throw your hands up in the air and feel that symbolism. But make sure you find the spark and spirit of the symbol. The hand is what you see, but if you look a little deeper you can see God’s throne. If you look even deeper, you can see past the symbolism of the throne and find Eternity.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink is the founder of shulontheinternet.com.
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