Rabbi Shimon Wiggins
When examining the first confrontation between the Jewish people and the nation of Amalek soon after the Exodus, two basic questions come to mind. Firstly, why did Amalek attack the Children of Israel without provocation?
When examining the first confrontation between the Jewish people and the nation of Amalek soon after the Exodus, two basic questions come to mind. Firstly, why did Amalek attack the Children of Israel without provocation? The verse merely relates that Amalek attacked the Children of Israel in a place called Rephidim, but what motivated this attack? Secondly, why did the Children of Israel deserve this sudden punishment?
The first question is compounded by the Midrash which compares the Jewish people upon leaving Egypt to a tub of boiling water. Just as nobody would dare jump into a pot of boiling water, out of fear that they would be scalded to death, so too the Jews were seemingly invincible after their miraculous Exodus, as the nations of the world stood in fear and awe. No one would attack the people with G-d on their side - except Amalek. Once they did attack, and even though they lost, they managed to cool off the hot water so that other nations could also jump in without being burned. What gave Amalek the strength to attack us?
Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, the late rosh yeshiva (dean) of the yeshiva Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, develops the answer to the first question from another Midrash which compares Amalek to a leitz -- a person who mocks and ridicules everything in life. Such a personality seeks every opportunity to undermine and belittle that which is serious and valuable in society. Amalek is the quintessential leitz.
The ten plagues; the splitting of the Red Sea; the destruction of Egypt; the manna falling from Heaven -- all of these events which had created a sense of awe and trepidation by the other nations towards the Jews, making the tub hotter and hotter, only increased Amalek's desire to be the first people to jump in. To Amalek, the classic leitz, this boiling tub of grandeur, nobility, and spirituality had to be cooled at any price.
let us now return to our second question. Why did the Jews deserve to be attacked by Amalek? The key to understanding this particular downfall is the name of the location where Amalek attacked us - Rephidim. Although on a simple level this name is merely a geographical location, the Midrash tells us that it is an acronym for rofu y'dayhem min hatorah - the hands of the Jewish people were weak in their support of Torah. What does this expression mean? The usual term for lack of Torah study is bitul Torah - neglecting the study of Torah. What then is the idea behind their hands being weak in their support of Torah?
Rabbi Hutner explains that this expression refers to a weakness in recognizing and appreciating the importance and relevance of the Torah in our lives. When we fail to realize how vital Torah is to our very existence and to the existence of the entire world, we are inviting Amalek into our midst.
Not only should we be concerned with how much Torah we learn, but also with how much value and importance we attribute to the Torah which we learn. Do we realize that Torah is Hashem's wisdom? Do we realize that Torah sustains the entire world? Do we realize that the ultimate perfection of the world can only come through Torah? May Hashem help us to increase our time to study Torah and our appreciation of its greatness.
Rabbi Shimon Wiggins is a teacher at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta.
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