The angels have great seats for the contest by the shore. They’ve watched with wonder as God has split the Sea of Reeds and the Israelites have hurried between the walls of water. Now the Egyptian chariots, hot in pursuit, are between the sea walls, gaining on their prey. The angels, fans of the underdog Israelites, are at the edge of their seats. Then, the walls of water come crashing down on the stunned cavalry. They never had a chance. Every last one of them–soldiers, horses–drown.
The fans rise to their feet in exultation. The angels begin to sing and dance. And God, who has orchestrated this entire drama, explodes in anger: “The work of my hands drown in the sea, and you desire to sing a song of praise?!” (Bavli Megillah 10b)
We understand the emotional response of God in this midrash, and we make it part of our Seder ritual, removing drops of wine so as not to enjoy a full cup when redemption necessarily comes with collateral deaths. “If your enemy falls, do not celebrate; if he trips, let not your heart rejoice,” says our tradition (Proverbs 24:17). But how far does sympathy for the enemy extend?
In our day, as in every era, we know exactly who are enemies are. They seem particularly savage-like, and we know that we cannot let down our guard. The need to defeat them is absolute and beyond doubt. That’s how God felt about the Egyptians at the Sea. But once the Egyptians lay dead on the shore, the tone had to change. Relief–yes; exultation–no.
One of the most troubling casualties of war is the humanity of the enemy. On Shabbat morning, I’ll share two stories about Israel dealing with the aftermath of its fallen enemies, and we’ll see how they align with the theological and emotional impulse of the midrash.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise