Pharoah’s army is in a deadly pursuit of the Jewish people as they arrive at the sea.
Moshe tells the people, “Don’t be afraid… stand by and watch … God will do battle for you and you will be still.” (Exodus 14: 13-14)
God performs the miracle at the sea: the Egyptian army is drowned and the Jewish people are saved. The message for the world is to learn that there is no power in the world independent of God. There was no human intervention necessary to win the war.
Yet later, at the end of this week’s parsha, it is Joshua who leads the Jewish people into battle after Amalek attacks the Jewish people at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8)
Joshua and his army kills many of the enemy and “weakens” Amalek and his nation (Ex 17:13). That seems to be enough for that day, and God tells Moshe that God will allow the battle with Amalek to continue in every generation, until God Himself will completely annihilate Amalek from under the heavens.
Why the difference between these two battles? Why do the Jewish People need to wage war with Amalek in every generation and only “weaken” Amalek until God ultimately “wipes away Amalek” in the future?
The Zohar in Bereishit teaches us that Amalek is the serpent (Nachash) and that the verse “Amalek dwells in the south (Negev)” (Numbers 13:29) means “the evil inclination (yetzer hara), the seducer of man, is always in his body (since the expulsion from the Garden of Eden).”
The Ramchal teaches us that outside of the Garden of Eden, in the world we currently live in, the natural state is for us to have a “yetzer hara.” In fact, in our material world, without a “yetzer hara” we wouldn’t be motivated to do anything at all!
So even though the yetzer hara often dominates our choices by pulling us toward purely hedonistic pleasures, we still have the ability to steer it towards doing the “will” of our neshama (soul). That’s why it’s so meaningful when we do a ‘mitzvah,’ (like getting up early for morning prayers) when that choice goes against what our body feels like doing (ie. sleeping in).
This world is one in which we are earning our relationship with God by making choices that go against our bodily desire to ignore God. We do that by using our “yetzer hara” to get our bodies to make the God-like choice to do acts of kindness, to give charity or take care of sick or homeless.
Now we can understand why the Ben Zoma in Pirkei Avot says, “Who is the powerful one? The one who conquers his evil inclination (yetzer hara). (Avot 4:1)
Notice Ben Zoma does not say, “the one who destroys, or wipes out, or eliminates his yetzer hara – evil inclination.” He says, “conquer” the yetzer hara. That means “weaken” it enough so that it will fulfill the neshama’s will, not the body’s desires.
So just like Joshua, we do battle with our own Amalek, our yetzer hara everyday to weaken it just enough to do our neshama’s will. This battle continues in every generation, until humanity achieves its potential, and God decides it is time to entirely “wipe out Amalek (the yetzer hara from our bodies)” so that we can all enter into the World to Come to receive our eternal reward.