This week, along with the regular Torah portion of Tetzaveh, we read the second of 4 special parshiot. These 4 special sections of the Torah come in fairly quick succession to each other. They are read between the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Adar and the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan. This week’s special reading is known as Parshat Amalek. No need to panic! This parsha is only 3 verses from Devorim, Deuteronomy, 25:17-19. Reading it does not add much time to the Shabbat service, so it shouldn’t contribute any delay before getting to the Kiddush at the conclusion of Tefilah.
However, these 3 verses are very significant. Many Torah scholars maintain that listening to this portion fulfills the commands of the Torah “To Remember Amalek” and “Don’t forget Amalek.” Other rabbinic authorities, such as the Rambam and Ramban, conclude hearing this portion is not a command from the Torah but is purely Rabbinic. They hold that the mitzvot “to remember” and “not to forget” require annunciation of some kind and are constant and ongoing.
The name Amalek comes from a descendent of Esau, first mentioned in the Chumash, Genesis 36:11. The original Amalek was the offspring of a prohibited relation. His father, Eliphaz (the eldest son of Esau) had relations with the wife of Seir. This union produced a girl, Timna. When she grew up, Eliphaz took her, his daughter Timna, as his concubine. That union produced Amalek. While Amalek developed into a specific tribe, Jewish law definition of Amalek is not limited to his biological offspring.
Rabbi Soloveitchick often remarked that Amalek also includes people of a certain corrupt philosophy and distorted psychology. Amalek is an ideology. Our rabbis in the Talmud ask, “Why is Amalek, likened to a dog?” They answer, “Just like a dog enjoys licking blood, so too does Amalek enjoy licking the blood of the Jew.” The word Amalek in Hebrew, עמלק, comes from combining two Hebrew words, עם and לק which mean “the nation that licks.”
Amalek preys on the most defenseless of Jews. In war an army doesn’t worry about the enemy’s weak. The concern, rather, is the enemy’s military, infantry and supporting armaments. Where does the Torah tell us that Amalek attacked? When the Israelites left Egypt, Amalek struck those in the very back, “…the weaklings in the rear.” Why there? Amalek enjoys blood.
An attack of this nature is indicative of a truly disturbed psychology, not just by one deranged person but by an entire nation. In Germany, the Nazis did not let up destroying the weakest Jews. Today where do Muslim terrorists strike? They target a mall developed by Jews, a kosher market and restaurant, a synagogue, a Jewish school. They too strike the defenseless and are the current version of Amalek.
Amalek is also a corrupt philosophy of life. Their culture praises and then inculcates its distorted values and behaviors into its youth. By speaking out against their inhumane acts we fulfill the positive command “to remember Amalek.” By studying and analyzing this disturbed psychology and distorted philosophy of life, we are fulfilling the command “not to forget” the true nature of Amalek. Make no mistake about it. Amalek seeks the death of Jews simply because they are Jewish. We tend to minimize, gloss over or deny this motivation for inflicting pain and suffering on Jews. The oft heard adage applied to Germany, “it’s time to put the past behind you” is precisely a violation of the command “Do not forget.”
What makes the study of Amalek so difficult to undertake in the first place and then to internalize the conclusions of the analysis? The deviant psychology and way of life that produces these atrocities is so alien to us. We fail to truly comprehend Amalek because we project our morals onto them. We cannot imagine what it takes to behead someone or burn him alive. It is outside of our psychological and philosophical perception of humanity.
Religious sects and cultures of the past as well as many Muslim sects of today must be unmasked and exposed for what they are, Amalek. There are no “grievances” that justify the barbaric behavior we have all recently seen on TV. Jews were the target of Muslim terrorists at the kosher supermarket in Paris. Economic hardship can hardly be blamed for the horrific behavior on display by ISIS. What kind of philosophy of life embraces the concept of “a day of rage?” Ideologies that control Iran, ISIS, the Palestinian Authority, Hezbollah, Hamas, Moslem Brotherhood, the Taliban, the list goes on… are all simply, Amalek.
Golda Meir put it right. She was asked by a reporter, “When will there be peace between the Arab nations and Israel? She replied, “When Arab parents love their children more than they hate Jewish children!” In our Israel Advocacy class at Posnack, our seniors study the issue known as “hierarchy of values.” One class exercise has the students break into smaller groups. They generate a list of values that are posted on the board for all to see. Then each group must rank these values, highest or most important to lowest or least important. While their lists are usually not identical, saving and preserving life always ranks at the top. Any mother or father, grandparent, aunt or uncle, that could strap explosives on to a child or standby as it happens surely subscribes to the value system that produces “a nation that enjoys licking the blood.”
As Jews we must be aware that this ideology is an ever present evil. The Torah warns us, “…Hashem maintains a war with Amalek, from generation to generation” Today it is one group tomorrow another. Each year we mention this same idea at the Pesach Seder. We recite, “This has stood by our ancestors and by us. It is not only one that has arisen to destroy us. Rather, in every generation they arise against us to annihilate us. However, the Holy One , blessed be He, saves us from their hand.”
As we celebrate and rejoice this Purim, remember and do not forget the message and ideas contained in parshat Amalek and depicted in Megilat Esther. They are as relevant to us in the 21st century as they were to our ancestors who left Egypt with Moshe or who lived in Shushan with Mordecai and Esther.
Finally, as Purim commences Wednesday night, please don’t forget to hear the Megilah both Wednesday night and then again sometime on Thursday. In addition, Thursday is the day for 3 other mitzvoth: distribute money to at least two poor people (enough for each one to have a festive meal); send “ready to eat” foods to at least one friend; and then to have a festive Purim meal with your family and friends.
I want to personally wish my readership and all of the Posnack family a Freilachen Purim, Buen Purim, and Happy Purim.
May Hashem continue His protecting care over the nation of Israel, Jews and all peace loving people throughout the world.
Rabbi Robert Kaplan