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Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach 5776

Parashat Hashavua: About Unity, Earthquakes, Prayer, and Miracles

Harav Yosef Carmel

After leaving Lavan’s house, Yaakov and family passed through Gilad, Sukkot and, on the other side of the Jordan, camped near Shechem. 600 years later, David led his troops, as described in Tehillim 60, in the opposite direction, from Shechem in the west, through Sukkot and Gilad to the east (ibid. 9). This mizmor is introduced with the heading as relating to the very successful battle against Aram, which is also discussed in Shmuel II,10.

With the help of which mechanisms or circumstances were Bnei Yisrael so successful in this battle? How do we reconcile the great success with the description in Tehillim, which includes several p’sukim depicting impending doom? Let us look at a few of the p’sukim: “Hashem, You have abandoned us, hit us, and been angry at us; hold back Your anger. You have made the land quake and cracked it. Fix its fractures for it has fallen … Indeed, You Hashem have abandoned us, and You have not gone out with our armies” (Tehillim 60:3-4, 12).

On the other hand, there are p’sukim of prayer and thanksgiving. “You have given those who fear You a nes (banner, miracle?) to wave … In order to rescue Your dear ones, may Your right hand save and answer me. Give us assistance from the enemy, and the salvation done by people is nothing. With Hashem shall we make successful battle, and He will destroy our enemies (ibid. 6-7, 13-14).

Let us suggest an explanation to the background of the events to which David responded. The Aramians/Syrians of the time threatened the future of the Israelite Kingdom. This tested not just the Jew’s military strength but also their social fabric, specifically the extent to which the tribes that descended from Rachel and from Leah could work together in support of King David. The p’sukim mention areas that David passed through on the way to Aram (presently, the southern Golan Heights). Shechem was the capital of the Shomron and belonged to the sons of Yosef, and they sent troops along with David. He continued to Sukkot and then to Gilad, where members of Menashe joined, along with Gad, Reuven, Binyamin, and Yehuda, who lived in the area. There was a rare moment of great unity.

As this army was climbing the Golan Heights, a strong earthquake hit the region (thus, we are understanding pasuk 4 literally), with all its frightful noise and fracturing of the land. At first there was a fear that this was a sign of Hashem’s anger at the Israelite army and war effort, and this explains the p’sukim of despair and abandonment. They used the opportunity to pray to Hashem for His good will.

In fact, the earthquake caused panic among the encampment of Aram, whose forces were dependent on horses-drawn carriages. The horses were the first to sense the earthquake and began to react hysterically. The fissures that the earthquake caused made it difficult for the carriages to move around. Upon realizing their sudden advantage, David’s foot-soldiers attacked the enemy, many of whom began to flee. This was the miracle David referred to in the aforementioned mizmor.

Let us join together in unity and peace at this time. In this merit, may Hashem hear our prayers and smite our enemies.

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