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Home » Shemot Parshah

Shemot: The Rightous Triumph

Submitted by on January 11, 2009 – 2:06 amNo Comment | 2,376 views

The Enemy’s Narrative

A recent headline in Time Magazine said it all: “Can Israel Survive It’s Assault On Gaza?” Note the tone of despair in our discourse as we voice concern for the survival of the attackers, rather than the attacked. Recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon and the current war in Gaza have changed the narrative; we are convinced that terror groups are indefatigable. Like a multi headed snake that grows two new heads every time one is chopped off, they seem able to withstand all attacks and respond with ever growing tenacity. Confidence in our eventual victory slowly erodes as we repeatedly ask: Can we win?

The terrorists rejoice when we ask this question because this is the narrative they want us to accept.

In Egypt

This is not the first time an enemy sought to erode our confidence and moral conviction; it has occurred more than three-thousand years ago. When our ancestors were enslaved in Egypt Pharaoh decreed: “Throw every newborn son into the [Nile] River and every newborn daughter you shall let live.” (1)

The Hebrew word for ‘you shall let live’ is, “Techayun,” which translates literally as you shall enliven. Pharaoh did not merely instruct that the daughters be allowed to live, but that they be enlivened; raised in the spirit of Egyptian life and imbued with its culture and faith. In other words, Jewish boys were to be drowned in the Nile waters and Jewish girls were to be raised in the Nile culture. (2)

Egyptians worshipped the Nile because it was their sole source of irrigation; without which they could not have survived. Pharaoh wanted the Jewish daughters to be raised with a similar mindset. He wanted the girls to view Egypt in the light that Egyptians viewed the Nile. He wanted them to believe that without the support of their Egyptian masters the Jewish people could not survive.

This was a battle for Jewish hearts and minds. Pharaoh sought to undermine the faith Jews had in their eventual liberation; he wanted them to forget the prophecy of redemption. If confidence in their future redemption could be sapped, their will to fight would be drained. They would finally surrender their independence and assimilate into Egyptian society. Pharaoh had it right. He knew that the strength of the Jewish people lay in the faith of their daughters. If he could erode the Jewish woman’s faith, he would have won the battle for the Jews. He wanted them to believe then, as the terrorists would have us believe today, that eventual surrender is inevitable and further resistance, futile.

Pharaoh almost achieved his objective. Our sages taught that Jewish men despaired in Egypt and sought to divorce their wives because they refused to bring children into the cruel world of enslavement and execution. (3) Had the Jewish woman acquiesced to this way of thinking, Pharaoh would have won. Destiny, however, planned it differently. The women did not despair and coaxed their husbands back into marriage. They gave birth to an entirely new generation of Jews, who survived the cruel decrees and experienced the Exodus from Egypt. (4)

Indeed, proclaimed our sages, our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt was in the merit of the righteous women. If not for their faith in the future, there would have been no Jews left for G-d to liberate. (5)

Moral Righteousness

When the war against terror scores a success, the terrorists attempt an even more cynical change of narrative. Parading their dead before the cameras, they cynically accuse democracies of aggression while painting themselves as soldiers of resistance. In their narrative, terrorists are valiant heroes who protect the downtrodden from cruelty and occupation.

When, despite our best efforts, our missiles strike the human shields, behind whom they hide, they single us out for opprobrium despite their own targeting of innocent civilians. This double standard and lack of moral clarity has successfully persuaded people, the world over, to suppose that terrorists are less evil than the democracies that fight them.

Back to Egypt

Pharaoh could not have embarked on his campaign against the Jews had he not first developed an argument against the Jews. At first most Egyptians saw the Jewish presence in Egypt as a blessing. They remembered that the famine had lifted when Jacob arrived to Egypt. They recalled that Pharaoh had revered Jacob and Joseph as men of G-d. Jews were respected in Egypt.

The troubles began when a new Pharaoh arose, who did not know Joseph and, who began to rewrite history. He incited his people against the Jews by arguing that Jews were an Achilles Heel for Egypt. He told them that in the event of war Jews would rise up against Egypt and attack their flank. (6) It was a massive propaganda effort aimed at rewriting the narrative.

Pharaoh was not satisfied with sparking a wave of Egyptian anti-Semitism; he sought to convince the Jews to accept his narrative. Pharaoh knew that if he could convince the Jews that they were unwanted in Egypt, parasites living off the hard work of honest Egyptians, he would soon succeed in enslaving them. A nation that believes in the righteousness of its cause will stand up and fight for itself. A nation that questions the righteousness of its cause loses its will to fight.

Pharaoh convinced our ancestors to labor for Egypt. At first they worked alongside their Egyptian neighbors and were handsomely paid. But soon the Egyptian laborers disappeared as did the wages promised by Pharaoh. (7) Pharaoh succeeded in foisting slavery upon our ancestors by convincing them to accept his narrative. Once they accepted his narrative they were prepared to view themselves as second class citizens and finally as slaves. By believing the enemy’s anti-Semitic propaganda, they provided their enemy with the key to victory. Indeed, Pharaoh would have won had the Jewish women not snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

The lesson to us today could not be clearer. Terror groups cannot win wars on the field of battle so they shift the war to the field of psychology. They seek to convince us of two main points. They want us to question the righteousness of our cause (while accepting the righteousness of theirs) and they want to drain our confidence in our ability to win. We are fortunate to receive guidance in this area from the Biblical narrative and from the history of our people.

The enemy’s propaganda can only be accepted at our peril. To overcome terror, we must remain firmly committed to the righteousness of our cause and to the certainty of our victory. Ceding control of these two most important tools allows the terrorists to win.


  1. Exodus 1:22.
  2. Likutei Sichos v. I p. 111.
  3. Rashi’s commentary to Exodus 2:1.
  4. Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei, ch. 9.
  5. Shemos Rabbah 1:12.
  6. Exodus 1:10.
  7. Shemos Rabbah 1:10.