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ITíS A WONDERFUL LIFE

by Rabbi David Zauderer    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

In the end of this weekís Torah portion, we find the Jews being attacked by Amalek. G-d had just split the Red Sea enabling the Jews to escape from their Egyptian pursuers, and, at the same time, drowning the entire Egyptian army.

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In the end of this weekís Torah portion, we find the Jews being attacked by Amalek. G-d had just split the Red Sea enabling the Jews to escape from their Egyptian pursuers, and, at the same time, drowning the entire Egyptian army.

One could imagine the stir that such news must have caused throughout the civilized world at that time. No nation would have dared to start up with the Jews, seeing that G-d was performing all sorts of amazing miracles in order to protect them. No nation, that is, except Amalek. The Midrash here uses the analogy of a boiling hot bath. The first person that jumps in gets badly burnedóbut he cools the bath off considerably, making it easier for the next person to jump in. Amalek so badly wanted the Jewish nation to be destroyed, that they were willing to attack the Jews even after having witnessed G-dís powerful hand protecting the Jews. Amalek was defeated, as the Torah tells us, but their gutsy, almost suicidal, attack on the Jews did a lot to alter the prevalent thinking of the time that the Jews and their G-d were invincible.

Later on in the Torah, we find the greatest non-Jewish prophet, Bilaam, communicating the following prophecy about the nation of Amalek. He says, "Amalek is the first among nations, but its end will be eternal destruction" (Numbers 24:20). The commentaries explain this to mean that in the Messianic Era, when all the nations of the world will come to an understanding and acceptance of the G-d of Israel and His chosen people, effectively ending anti-semitism and other forms of hatred and bigotry in the world, Amalek will refuse to see the truth and will be utterly destroyed.

Who is Amalek, and why are they singled out in the Torah as the one nation that G-d promises to completely eradicate from the face of the earth? After all, many other nations throughout our long history have tried to destroy us.

King Solomon writes in his Proverbs (19:25), "Strike the scoffer and the simpleton grows clever." The commentaries explain that the scoffer, or cynic, that the verse refers to is Amalek, and the simpleton is Yitro, Mosesí father-in-law.

When G-d miraculously rescued the Jews from Egypt and split the sea for them, there were two different reactions to these unbelievable events. Amalek, being a nation of cynics who laugh in the face of all goodness and G-dliness, attempted to destroy the new nation of Israel. Yitro, on the other hand, saw the handwriting on the wall and converted to Judaism. Next weekís Torah portion, named after Yitro, relates how Yitro heard about all that G-d had done to save the Jewish nation, and how these events had impacted him greatly. Here was a man who was not resistant to change. On the contrary, Yitro was constantly searching for meaning, grabbing every opportunity he could to grow spiritually.

Youíll recall the story in the beginning of Exodus where Yitroís daughters are being hounded and threatened by some Midianite shepherds, when along comes Moses and saves the day. The girls come back home and relate to their father how an Egyptian man (Moses grew up in the palace of Pharaoh and must have looked like an Egyptian) had saved them. Yitro asks his daughters how come they didnít invite the man home for a meal. He felt that this stranger that saved his daughters might be an interesting person to meet. Who knowsómaybe the man had something new to teach that they could benefit from, helping change them in a positive way.

The root of Amalekís evil, and the reason why they are destined for ultimate destruction, is because of their deep-rooted cynicism and loathing of anyone or anything positive and spiritual in the world. Picture a classroom with a teacher trying to instill positive, moral values in the students. Thereís this one kid, sitting in the back row, forever rolling his eyes and openly mocking everything the teacher says. Clearly, that student has to be removed from the class.

Well, itís the same with Amalek. They are a nation that hates good people and goodness and who donít want to change, nor do they believe itís even possible to change. And such a nation represents a threat to all the positive and G-dlike values that we are trying to instill in ourselves and in the rest of humanity.

In our own lives, we are constantly choosing between two different reactions to the various events and happenings that occur around us. An interesting speaker is coming to the synagogue on a Sunday evening to talk about his experiences as a Jewish chaplain in the U.S. Army in World War II. "Another speaker! Why donít they stop bothering us already? Didnít we just have that sisterhood brunch three weeks ago?" or "Honey, letís get a baby sitter. There might be something to this guy!" Two totally opposite reactions.

Sometimes the stakes are much higher. Like when youíre in a plane that starts shaking violently and those scary oxygen masks drop down out of nowhere. The pilot instructs everyone to put their heads between their knees as he brings the plane down in an emergency landing. Some people take their cue from Amalek, and they let that potentially disastrous, life-changing ordeal just fly by (no pun intended). All the inherent messages of the fragility and preciousness of life and the need to make the most of the little time we do have, are lost on them.

Hey, lifeís a beach and then you die anyway, they say. But thatís a bad attitude. The trick is to heed the call and grow clever from it; to do what Yitro did after hearing about the exodus. Searching constantly for ways to make ourselves and the world around us better is what life is all about.

The catalyst for that change is everywhere. We just have to be receptive to it, to take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way. Lifeís a whole lot more than a beachóitís what each and every one of us makes of it.

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Rabbi David Zauderer is a card-carrying member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel.

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