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"וַיָּבֹא עֲמָלֵק וַיִּלָּחֶם עִם־יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּרְפִידִם׃, וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בְּחַר־לָנוּ אֲנָשִׁים וְצֵא הִלָּחֵם בַּעֲמָלֵק מָחָר אָנֹכִי נִצָּב עַל־רֹאשׁ הַגִּבְעָה וּמַטֵּה הָאֱלֹהִים בְּיָדִי׃
Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Pick some troops for us, and go out and do battle with Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill, with the rod of God in my hand.” Exodus.17.8

On the one hand, allegedly, Moses had the power to kill with God's name which could be very useful here, on the other, it seems right for the leader to lead the army, instead of retreating to a hill.

Why didn't Moses fight Amalek himself?

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    (1) "On the one hand, allegedly, Moses had the power to kill with God's name which could be very useful here ..." Maybe his power of prayer was even more useful here. (2) "... on the other, it seems right for the leader to lead the army, instead of retreating to a hill". Is it right for a political/spiritual leader to lead [from the front] the army into battle? When was the last time you saw a president/prime minister lead his nation's army into battle? Or a religious leader (like the Catholic Church's pope)?
    – Tamir Evan
    Apr 27 at 4:01
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    @TamirEvan: It was common in ancient and medieval eras, at least for political leaders (who often doubled as spiritual leaders in Moses's day, cf. Pharaoh). Not presidents or prime minsters, but kings would lead troops into battle into the 1700s (Charles XII of Sweden was killed this way). As for religious leaders, the Catholic Church's pope personally lead troops in battle in the early 1500's (Julius II, though that is an aberration), although lesser ranked clerics were more common on the battlefield (e.g. Bishop Turpin in the Matter of France).
    – sharur
    Apr 27 at 4:29

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The Chizkuni on this pasuk explains that during a war, it is common practice for a leader to just "watch" the other men fight, while being posisitioned on a hill or mountain, to encourage the fighting men and not actually joining the fight if you are a "high placed official or leader". In our times, when there is a war, this is exactly what happens. The "leaders" will literally lead the people at battlefront, while watching "from behind":

אנכי נצב על ראש הגבעה, “I will position myself on the summit of the hill;” Moses wanted to be able to follow the course of the battle while personally watching, and even more, so that the Israelite fighters could see their leader and be encouraged by this visual contact. We find a verse in Joshua 8,26, where the latter, by that time the leader of the Jewish people, emulated Moses’ example by not lowering his spear until victory in battle had been secured. It is a common practice in war that one of the popular heroes positions himself on a hill or tower, holding aloft a flag in order to serve as encouragement to the troops seeing that the flag is a common symbol. As long as the troops can see their flag being held aloft they derive encouragement from this. If for some reason the troops fail to see the flag being held aloft they become demoralised. Moses’ staff in this instance served as a flag for the Israelites fighting Amalek.

From this it would seem that Moshe Rabbeinu wanted to encourage the men fighting, while being posisitoned on top of a hill, so that everyone could see him.

Moses’ staff in this instance served as a flag for the Israelites fighting Amalek.

The Chizkuni sees it this way, but the Ramban on the other hand, says something else:

The reason that Moses commanded Joshua to fight with Amalek was so that he [Moses] might pray with the raising of hands on the top of the hill.

Instead of "encouraging the fighting men", Moshe Rabbeinu ascended the hill/mountain in order to bless them:

He went up there so that he might see the Israelites engage in battle and train his sight on them to bring them blessing. They too, upon seeing him with his hands spread heavenward and saying many prayers, would have trust in him, and they would thus be endowed with additional valor and strength.

In a similair vein to what the Ramban writes, the Malbim on this pasuk explains:

Moshe said to Yehoshua. Moshe’s special abilities lay in the realm of the supernatural. For this reason he conducted the wars against Sichon and Og personally, since those wars were openly miraculous. On this occasion, by contrast, Hashem hid His face so that they were required to do battle in a natural manner. Therefore Moshe delegated command to Yehoshua, who had been chosen by Hashem to lead the conquest of Canaan, which was to be accomplished through natural wars accompanied by hidden miracles. Nevertheless, Moshe helped in the battle against Amaleik through prayer and urgings to repentance in order that they would enjoy Divine favor. With the staff of Hashem. The staff was called by this name, rather than “Moshe’s staff,” whenever Hashem performed through it a miracle for which the B’nei Yisrael were not worthy, solely to display His power.

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The Be'er Yosef (Exodus 18:1) has a creative approach to this question:

His explanation is based on understanding the true catalyst to the war with Amalek. Hashem caused the war to happen in order to strengthen the foundations of the Jewish people’s faith. They were suspicious that perhaps all the miracles they had experienced in Egypt were all Moshe’s doing. Perhaps he was just a really powerful sorcerer. Or maybe his staff had magical properties.

To remove all these mistaken ideas, Hashem engineered the nation of Amalek to attack. This wouldn’t be a normal battle, with the nation’s leader at the forefront. He was to literally sit this battle out, as Moshe sat on a high mountain, with the staff in his hand. The people quickly realized that their success in the battle was solely a result of their allegiance to Hashem (See Rashi to Numbers 21:8, quoting Rosh Hashanah 3:8). Moshe wasn’t involved at all. With that, they had no doubt that Hashem was entirely behind their salvation from Egypt.

Translation taken from a larger piece of mine, here.

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  • Interesting, but was Moshe not involved at all if he was on the mountain raising his hands? If they suspected him of just being a very powerful sorcerer, how could this have disproven that? Couldn't they have equally thought, "well now he is just doing his sorcery from the mountain. He went up there so he could oversee the whole battlefield and do sorcery over the entire battlefield from a high place!"? Apr 30 at 0:17
  • @ShipBuilding Chazal say that everyone knew that his hands were irrelevant. Only when they subjugated their hearts to Hashem were they successful
    – robev
    Apr 30 at 19:19
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In פרשת עמלק, where according to חז"ל, the word "רפידם" hints to a theme replete with the idea of רפיון ידים from Torah or mitzvos, perhaps the idea is to wean כלל ישראל away from dependence on their leader Moshe and more toward direct reliance on השם.

As Rashi mentions at the end of this section, it is hinted that there will come a time where Moshe won't be the leader and Yehoshua will lead them into Israel:

ושים באזני יהושע...כאן נרמז לו למשה שיהושע מכניס את ישראל לארץ

So they shouldn't even depend on special access that יחידי סגולה like Moshe had to השם through use of the שם המפורש.

The end goal being to show that (as the pasuk says) this a מלחמת השם and if כלל ישראל follows השם with their eyes and most importantly with their hearts, then it will be a מלחמת השם and they of course will be victorious.

The key line here from חז"ל is in the mishna in Rosh Hashana 3:8 as a side comment re: the previous mishna (re: כוונת הלב בתקיעת שופר)

והיה כאשר ירים משה ידו וגבר ישראל וגו': וכי ידיו של משה עושות מלחמה או שוברות מלחמה? אלא לומר לך: כל זמן שהיו ישראל מסתכלים כלפי מעלה ומשעבדין את לבם לאביהם שבשמים, היו מתגברים; ואם לאו, היו נופלין

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  • Didn't see robev's answer yet when I started on this! It seems I was מכוון to a very similar thing by the time I posted my answer :-)
    – EraserX
    Apr 26 at 21:16
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Moses said to Joshua…. (Ex. 17:9)

Although this was Moses' war, Joshua was the one to actually fight. This was a simple matter of lineage. Joshua was a descendant of Joseph, while Amalek was a member of Esau's family. Therefore this battle fulfilled the verse (Obadiah 1:18): "The house of Jacob will be as fire and the house of Joseph as the flame, while the house of Esau will be as straw." (Rashi)

*From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; adapted by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky: https://www.chabad.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/3608177/jewish/Battles-with-Amalek.htm

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  • Nice touch, however traditionally we don't see prophecies fulfilling posteriorly.
    – Al Berko
    Apr 29 at 9:39
  • שבעים פנים לתורה, so this is an appropriate alternate answer for the original question "Why didn't Moses fight Amalek himself" - the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l's words via R. Wisnefsky are based on the Yalkut Shimoni 264:2 as can be seen here sefaria.org.il/Yalkut_Shimoni_on_Torah.264.2 which actually expands at even further length upon the selection of יהושע for this battle, ועיין שם.
    – EraserX
    Apr 29 at 17:42
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At an abstract level, it is not possible to fight Amalek. This is because Amalek is pure dimyon (make believe), and the only thing that happens if you fight a dream is that you make it real.

Hence Moshe, who was at the level of total reality, could not fight Amalek directly, because by doing so he would have been giving credence to Amalek as a valid combatant. Yehoshua, who was not at the level of Moshe, could fight Amalek, because from a practical perspective it was necessary to war with them.

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  • Dyk any sources for this teaching by any chance? How do we reconcile this teaching with Moshe taking physical actions in other situations? He killed the Egyptian. He physically led the Jews out of Egypt. And by having his people fight Amalek, was this not treating them as a valid combatant? If they weren't a valid combatant, why did they have to be combated at all by Yehoshua under Moshe? Does total reality not include the physical? Could Moshe not have fought them on that level? I know entire texts could be written on just these questions, so I empathize it's difficult to post answers. Apr 30 at 0:24
  • @ShipBuilding - General impressions from Maharal and Pachad Yitzchak. - All the shivim umos are a valid way of living in olam hazeh that needs to be niskarev el Hashem, Amalek is not. - Amalek is the anti-Yisrael, so they are a unique type of combatant, but not one that we wish to survive. - Physical reality of a projection of amituso Yisbarach.
    – pcoz
    May 1 at 6:16

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