Some things never change

In Honor of Sharona and Josh Halickman’s 29th Wedding Anniversary

We read in Parshat Chukat (Bamidbar 21:1): “When the C’naanite King of Arad, dwelling in the Negev, heard that Yisrael were coming by the route of Atarim, he attacked Yisrael and took captives.”

What is the route of Atarim?

According to Ibn Ezra, Atarim is a variation on the word tarim (spies) with an extra alef, meaning the route of the spies.

Nehama Leibowitz points out that B’nai Yisrael showed their lack of confidence and fear of the future by sending the spies. The C’naanim fortified themselves with the knowledge of Israel’s sense of weakness and inferiority. The lowering of Israel’s morale was followed automatically by the rising morale of their enemies.

Who was the C’naanite King of Arad and what did he hear?

According to Rashi, this was Amalek who resided in the Negev.

Rashi explains what the king heard (Rosh HaShana 3a):

The king heard that Aharon died and that the clouds of glory had departed and he thought that permission had been granted to fight against Israel.

Unfortunately this sounds a lot like what happened on October 7, when Hamas felt confident enough to attack Israel and take hostages. Hamas saw that the Jewish people were not united. There were groups of Israelis trying to close down outdoor prayer services on Yom Kippur, there were divisive rallies taking place in the streets, there were full page ads being taken out in the newspapers telling pilots not to report for miluim (reserve duty), the security balloons on the border of Gaza were slowly being taken down by Hamas and were not immediately being replaced by the army as they should have been and the list goes on....

The King of Arad had the wrong idea when he thought that it was now ok to attack B’nai Yisrael. God was still protecting them. B’nai Yisrael vowed to God (Bamidbar 21:2): “If You will deliver this people into our hands, we will utterly destroy their cities.”

In Bamidbar 21:3 we read: “God listened to Yisrael’s plea and He delivered the C’naanites into the hand of Yisrael and Yisrael completely destroyed them and consecrated their cities; and the region was named Chorma (consecration).”

When B’nai Yisrael made the vow, they were united. God listened and helped them destroy their enemies. Even after Moshe passed away and Yehoshua took over, God was behind B’nai Yisrael when they continued to conquer the Land of Israel.

What ended up happening with the hostages that were taken by the king?

According to Ramban, following the plain meaning of the text, the C’naanim did not kill any of the Israelites, but took a few of them captive. When God delivered the C’naanim into the hands of B’nai Yisrael, they brought all of the hostages back, not a single one was missing.

Hamas, as well, got a surprise when as soon as the Israeli army understood what was taking place, we were able to fight back both on the Gaza border as well as inside. Hamas is being hit much harder than they would have ever imagined. However, although some of our hostages were returned and some were rescued, we still have many more in Gaza and unfortunately not all of them are alive.

Since October 7, Israelis have come together to pray on behalf of the soldiers and the hostages.

In order to merit God’s protection from our enemies, we must be united. We must keep up our morale and continue to show that the State of Israel is strong. If we don’t show that we are tough then we will continue to be attacked. With our powerful army and God on our side we must remain confident that we will triumph over our enemies.

May we see a victory over Hamas and Hizbullah and may all of the hostages come home.