“And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the Lord saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” Exodus 17:7


As the children of Israel leave Egypt after the Ten Plagues pursued by Pharaoh’s chariots, we see the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, the Israelites’ safe crossing and the drowning of the Egyptians. A pool of bitter waters is made sweet; God feeds the Israelites with manna from heaven. Moses strikes a rock and water gushes out.

The Israelites are saved and sustained by successive miracles. However, as the parashah closes, we learn that the Israelites were attacked by Amalek. The verse immediately preceding Amalek’s assault tells of the Israelites’ doubting refrain, “Is God among us or not?”

The commentaries interpret the juxtaposition: “when Israel doubts, then Amalek appears.” Our spiritual hollow creates space for his physical havoc. To repel Amalek, we must have faith in God.

Given all the Israelites had experienced, how could they begin to ask the doubting question? Surely God’s existence and His Presence were manifest. Perhaps the focus of the question is misunderstood. God isn’t in doubt. The key is the word bekirbaynu, “among us”.  

Is God found in us as a collective? Is God found in us as a whole?

Before the Amalekite attack, the Israelites are designated Bnei Yisrael, the “Children of Israel” or an am, “a people”; both collective phrases for a group of individuals.  When Amalek attacks, it is the very first time the nation is called just “Israel”.

The lesson we are being taught is that we must look to see God’s presence in the nation as a whole.  

We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be divided into strong or weak, observant or secular, some as godly and others as godless. There is no harm nor shame in diversity. The harm is when we draw our own lines which disenfranchise others; when we suggest we don’t care. 

When we give up on our fellows and imagine that “God is surely with me, but perhaps less with you” we construct a self-destructive schism.  The unity of Israel is its defence against Amalek.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive