How can surrender lead to victory?

During the war against Amaleik, B’nei Yisrael prevailed only as long as Moshe’s hands remained raised; when his hands fell, the Jews began to falter (Sh’mos 17:11). How strange that winning and success were associated with “hands up,” the universal signal of surrender and defeat!

Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman shlita explained that, in order to be successful in battle, the Jewish army must put its faith in Hashem. Moshe established this standard in the very first war in Jewish history. He demonstrated that, in addition to the hishtadlus of engaging in physical combat, Jewish soldiers must also invoke their secret weapon, t’filah. Chazal emphasize that Moshe’s raised hands were not miracle workers; they simply directed the people’s attention upwards, reminding them to daven to the true Source of their military might (Rosh HaShanah 29a). As long as the Jewish people “surrendered their arms” to Hashem, they triumphed. As soon as they lowered their sights and put too much stock in their own hands, they lost their edge.

This message is not limited to times of war, but a key element of t’filah in general. As long as we believe that we have the capability and resources to solve life’s problems, our prayers are stunted – half-hearted, at best. We may be mouthing the correct words, and pointing our feet in the right direction, but in the back of our minds, we have our own ideas about how to achieve parnasah, shidduchim, and r’fuah. However, to harness the true power of prayer, we need to “throw up our hands” and recognize that we cannot accomplish anything without the support of Hashem. This is the strength of davening with hands raised in surrender.

Another demonstration of such a t’filah occurs earlier in Parshas B’Shalach – in the famous part of the parshah! The Jewish People stood paralyzed in fear, trapped between the charging Egyptians and the raging Sea. With no other option, and out of complete desperation, they cried out to Hashem (Sh’mos 14:10). Rashi comments that, at this moment, B’nei Yisrael seized hold of the special craft of their Forefathers, the founders of Jewish prayer. What was so extraordinary about these Yam Suf prayers to earn the distinction of being “just like the Avos intended”?

Rav Yerucham Levovitz zt”l explained that the feelings of helplessness experienced by the Jews at the Sea were precisely what the Avos had in mind when they established our t’filos. Even when we are not physically surrounded by imminent danger on all sides, we are always in need of Hashem’s assistance. We rarely beseech Hashem with this mindset, so our prayers often fall short of this lofty ideal. But when trapped at the Yam Suf, the Jewish people finally realized something that is true at all times and in all places: We have no options other than Hashem.

Whether it’s at war, in crisis, or during everyday life, we can lift up our hands in defeat to ask Hashem to grant us great success!

Rabbi Yaakov Abramovitz is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, while also pursuing a Psy.D. in School and Clinical Child Psychology at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..