WITHOUT A DOUBT
Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich
Our sages have ordained that the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim be reserved for the fulfilling of the Biblical command to remember the heinous act of aggression that the people of Amalek perpetrated against the Jewish people when they left Egypt.
Our sages have ordained that the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim be reserved for the fulfilling of the Biblical command to remember the heinous act of aggression that the people of Amalek perpetrated against the Jewish people when they left Egypt. We are to reaffirm that there is an eternal enmity between ourselves and the people of Amalek, and only through the eradication of Amalek will G-d's throne and majesty be firmly and forever established amongst Mankind.
As the Jewish community gathers in synagogue on Parshat Zachor and the section of the Torah discussing the mitzvah to purge Amalek from our midst is about to be read, the rabbi will ascend the pulpit and urge everyone to silently and intently listen to the communal reading of this important mitzvah. To be sure, the decorum in most synagogues will be perfect for these few moments. One can literally hear a pin drop during the Torah reading. But what is it that we should actually be thinking about? Are we readying ourselves for physical battle, and by the way, who and where is the enemy we are searching out?
Without question, a critical aspect of the mitzvah to destroy Amalek relates to a particular people. Indeed, King Saul was ordered to destroy the physical descendants of Amalek. But there is another dimension to Amalek which helps us better understand how we must direct our energies in doing battle against the eternal nemesis of G-d and the Jewish people.
The people of Amalek are the physical expression of a philosophy totally antithetical to the notion of Divine providence. The philosophy of Amalek asserts that there is no Creator with an intended master plan for Mankind, and the events that befall Man can be simply reduced to cause and effect. For example, if someone's brakes fail while driving down a steep slope, Amalek would have us believe that it is the car manufacturer, rather than a malfunction in the community's or one's own spiritual service, that bears responsibility. When we suffer business reversals, the Amalek credo teaches us that we simply made a bad investment, rather than acknowledging the providential hand of G-d in our lives trying to arouse us from the religious slumber that threatens our spiritual vitality. When bombs go off in Jerusalem streets and young soldiers lose their lives in Southern Lebanon, the Amalek philosophy tells us that it is simply the wanton acts of terrorists against the Jewish people.
Amalek's philosophy would have us simply point fingers at a flawed strategy against terrorists or a mismanaged program of diplomacy towards the peace process. The Amalek philosophy cannot tolerate the notion that our actions and deeds found wanting in the eyes of G-d trigger responses from heaven that beseech us to examine and change our ways. In fact, the gematria (numerical value) of "Amalek" and the Hebrew word "safek" (doubt, chance) is identical, because the essence of Amalek is life governed by chance and happenstance.
When the Jewish people were attacked in the desert by the physical Amalek, we are told by Rashi (commenting on Exodus 17:10) that the Jews declared a fast. Moreover, in his classic code of Jewish law, Maimonides writes that fasting in a time of communal or national calamity is a form of repentance because it moves individuals to recognize that it is the collective misdeeds of the Jewish community that causes their distress. Maimonides adds that if the Jewish community fails to perceive that it is their behavior, rather than random occurrences, that causes their pain, this only furthers the cycle of misfortune that G-d will continue to send upon them.
So when the battle cry against Amalek is sounded in the synagogue on Parshat Zachor, let's take up arms against the Amalek that lies within each and every one of us, that part of us that doesn't fully understand that it is ultimately the measure of our commitment to Torah, and the quality of our Jewish lives as determined by G-d, that significantly contributes to the peace and well-being of not only our community, but wherever Jews live. G-d is anxiously waiting for us to help arrange His throne to be firmly and soundly established.
Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich has been an educator at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta for over 13 years.
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