The Bible Says What? ‘Moses needed to hold up his hands to win a battle’

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The Bible Says What? ‘Moses needed to hold up his hands to win a battle’

Reform Judaism's Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers takes a controversial topic from the Torah and looks at a progressive response

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers

 In Exodus, we read: “Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed. Whenever he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.”

It’s almost a comic book image – Moses holds up his arms, and the Israelites begin to defeat the Amalekites. When he lowers them, the Amalekites begin to prevail. You’d think if miracles were to be done, they wouldn’t necessarily require a man to really feel the burn of an arm workout so challenging he ends up with two supporters, each supporting an arm.

It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Moses’ heroic (if at times troubled) leadership. An exhausted man on the edge of the battlefield with allies holding up his arms so the fighters below aren’t defeated. I wonder what this looked like to the Israelites themselves?

Might they have considered it a weakness on Moses part? Or was this an important opportunity for the Hebrews to learn that with freedom comes responsibility for sharing the burdens of leadership?

In Yitro, the portion following this account, we hear about Moses struggling to manage the day-to-day tasks of running and managing the business of the 12 tribes, and his father-in-law, Jethro, becomes our first recorded management consultant, encouraging him to let others help.

While God could have directed the battle without the public image of an exhausted Moses having his arms held aloft by Aaron and Hur, perhaps it was important for both Moses and the Hebrews to learn we all sometimes need a little help from our friends, no one is an island, and great victories are rarely won alone.

Who has been there to hold up your arms when you needed it? And could you be holding someone’s arms up in the coming week?

  •  Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers is community educator at Reform Judaism
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