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The Warriors of Ephraim

The Warriors of Ephraim

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More than a hundred years had passed since the death of Joseph in Egypt, and the bitterness of the Golus (Exile) had become daily more unbearable. The young prince, Moses, who was the first to protest against the Egyptian oppressors, had been forced to flee the country. For, Dathan and Abiram had reported to Pharaoh that the young Moses had killed an Egyptian Overseer who was beating up a Jewish slave.

At this time a certain Jew of the tribe of Ephraim appeared; his name was Yagnon. He addressed his fellow-Jews in a rousing battle-cry: "Listen, my brothers! A hundred and eighty years have already passed since our ancestors arrived in Egypt; we can wait no longer for salvation. We are strong enough to take this matter into our own hands to free ourselves from the Egyptian yoke and capture our land, the land promised to our forefathers!"

But the older men in his audience just shook their heads sadly, and said: "If Yagnon truly believes that G‑d promised our forefathers the Land of Canaan, then why does he not also believe that G‑d will free His people and give us our land when He judges it to be the right time?"

Yagnon, despite his fiery, rousing words, had little success amongst the majority of his listeners. Only the men of his own tribe of Ephraim backed him up and tried to influence others to follow suit, but without avail.

Nevertheless, Yagnon and his followers were determined to act on their own. They armed themselves with swords, bows and arrows, and marched out of Egypt. A fierce battle ensued, and the warriors of Ephraim experienced their first victory. Unfortunately, this was short-lived. They had brought no food with them, only gold and silver, meaning to buy food from the Philistines. The way to the Land of Israel through the Land of the Philistines was a short distance away, and the men of Ephraim soon found themselves at the borders of the Philistines. There, near the town of Gath, they saw herds of cattle and sheep and a number of shepherds taking care of them.

The men of Ephraim offered to buy some cattle and sheep, but the shepherds refused. However, the Ephraimites, tired and hungry after the heavy fighting they had gone through, began to round up some of the animals by force. The shepherds then set up a loud cry which brought out a large number of residents from the nearby city of Gath. A bitter battle followed, with heavy casualties on both sides. The men of Gath then sent out an urgent call for help throughout the land: "The Jews are threatening us and our land; Come and help us stop them!"

The Philistines quickly mobilized all their fighting men and hurried to the aid of Gath. The men of Ephraim saw that they were greatly outnumbered and, without G‑d's help, they would be lost. They looked out over the valley of Gath and saw the great number of their men who had fallen in battle (whom the Philistines did not even allow to be taken away for burial) and whose bodies were fated to be left there, neglected and uncared for. (It was hundreds of years later that the prophet Ezekiel, through a Divine prophecy, brought the bones back to life in his prophecy about the Valley of the Dry Bones).

Very few of the men of Ephraim managed to save themselves. They escaped to Egypt and poured out their bitter feelings to their old father Ephraim, Joseph's son.

"I warned you, my dear children, that you should not depend upon your own powers, nor on the help of other nations," Ephraim said to his war-saddened sons. "But do not lose hope, my children! The time of salvation is not far off. Put your trust in G‑d. He will surely fulfill the promise He made to our grandfather Jacob. Let us look forward to that great day when He will take us out of our Golus, with many wonderful miracles."

At that time Ephraim's youngest son was born whom he named Beriah, commemorating the misfortune (Ra'ah) that befell his tribe.

Thirty years later Ephraim's words became a reality. The Jews left Egypt under the leadership of Moshe Rabbenu, accompanied by the many miracles described in the Haggadah, which stir the hearts of all Jews, wherever they are, to this very day.

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Volf April 8, 2006

This is a great story, very inspiring. Reply