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Exodus Armed

by Rabbi Dovid Bendory, Rabbinic Director,
Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.
Copyright 2012 JPFO

Rabbi BendoryThe weekly reading of B’Shalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16) tells of the emergence of the Jewish People as a Nation: Pharoah has finally been overwhelmed by the ten plagues Hashem has wrought upon Egypt and the Jewish People depart. No longer slaves, we take our first steps in freedom as our own Nation and People.

Our first steps in freedom are described thus (Exodus 13:18):

"And G-d led the people round about by way of the desert of the Red Sea, and the Children of Israel came up armed from the Land of Egypt." [1]

Armed? Yes indeed! And it was so significant that we were armed that the Torah makes sure to mention it. Why? Like all slaves, we were disarmed in Egypt. Nothing symbolized our freedom from Egyptian bondage greater than bearing the arms of a free nation, a nation learning to take responsibility for its own well-being -- beginning with the responsibility to defend itself.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, Rashi’s commentary explains the verse:

The word 'chamushim' can only mean 'armed'. Because G-d caused them to wander in the wilderness, they needed to take arms with them from Egypt, for they did not pass near civilizations where they could acquire arms and supplies but rather had to take everything out from Egypt with them. [2]

Where did the fleeing slaves get arms? From the Egyptians themselves! At the end of last week’s reading, two verses before the Hebrew slaves actually depart from Egypt, they act "according to Moses’ instruction" and asked the Egyptians for "silver, gold, and garments." After 210 years of slavery, G-d saw to it that the Egyptians would look favorably on them; the Egyptians gave even more than they requested, and they immediately depart (Exodus 13:35-37, with Rashi) -- armed, as we are told this week.

Having despoiled Egypt in payment for their long enslavement, the Jews depart having been paid for their and their ancestors’ labor. With their gold and silver, garments, and newly acquired arms of freedom, they depart "triumphantly" -- literally, "with a high hand" (14:8), which Rashi understands as "with openly displayed might."

And indeed, at the end of the weekly reading, our arms and might are put to the test. The nation of Amelek attacks (Exodus 17:8) and the Jewish People go to war. Joshua leads the battle; Moses, Aaron, and Hur ascend to the top of a hill to oversee (17:9-10). When Moses raises his hands to the Heavens, the Jewish people are victorious; when his hands drop, the Amalekites surge. The Mishna (Rosh HaShanah 3:8) explains: when Moses raises his hands, the Jewish People are reminded of G-d, and this strengthens their hands in battle; when they forget G-d, they are defeated.

So it has always been for the Jewish People: we must arm ourselves and take responsibility for our own safety and security, but we must also always remember that G-d is our source of strength. May we always be blessed with the freedom to self-arm, the discipline to use our arms only in righteousness, and the knowledge that our security comes only from G-d Himself.

1. Translation mine.
2. This is an exposition of Rashi’s comment, not a literal translation thereof.


Rabbi Dovid Bendory
Rabbinic Director
Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership

Rabbi Bendory is an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor.

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© Copyright Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership 2012.

Original material on JPFO is copyright, and so it cannot be used or plagiarized as the work of another. JPFO does however encourage article reproduction and sharing, providing full attribution is given and a link back to the original page on JPFO is included.

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