Parshat Zachor תשפ”ב
The month of Adar has begun, and we are commanded to increase our happiness! The Talmud says (Taanit 29a):
אמר רב יהודה בריה דרב שמואל בר שילת משמיה דרב: משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה
Rabbi Yehuda the son of Rav Shmuel the son of Shilas, said in the name of Rav, “When the month of Adar enters, we increase our happiness.”
Rashi explains that because Adar was a month of miracles for the Jewish people, i.e., Purim and Pesach, and this holy energy refreshes itself every year, we should be more joyous during this time.
As soon as Adar enters, we already have our thoughts on the festive holiday of Purim. This coming Shabbat, the Shabbat just prior to Purim, is called Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of Remembrance, on which we fulfill our biblical obligation to remember Amalek’s battle and attempt to destroy us as we left Egypt. We fulfil this mitzva by taking out and reading three verses from a second sefer Torah (Deuteronomy 25:17–19):
(יז) זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם:
(יח) אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱלֹקים:
(17) Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt. (18) That he happened upon you on the way, and he struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d.
The Torah then instructs us not to forget what Amalek did. We are also required to erase their memory from the world. This obligation requires us to kill every descendent of Amalek. (More on this later.)
The two commandments, to remember and not to forget, comprise the Torah’s 603rd and 605thcommandments. # 604 is the mitzva to annihilate them.
Why is Amalek marked for such a harsh punishment? Many other nations warred with, and sought to destroy, the Jewish nation as they made their way to the Land of Israel. We don’t have to wipe them out. What was so grievous about Amalek’s attack the prompted the Merciful One to mandate their annihilation?
The interaction between the Jewish nation and the Amalek people began shortly after the Jews left Egypt, when Amalek attacked them for no apparent reason.
Generally, five reasons support a country going to war: (1) To defend its land from an approaching threat, (2) To conquer new territory, (3) To show off its might, (4) To defend itself if a nation started up with it, and (5) To wage a holy war. Yet, the above verses show that none of these could have been the reason for Amalek to attack the Israelites.
Specifically, (1) We were on our way to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, not looking to fight with anyone; (2) We had just left Egypt and had no land, so Amalek could not have attacked to acquire new territories; (3) Amalek attacked the weak stragglers trailing the Jewish people, not a way to show off one’s might; (4) We did not start up with them, or have any previous history with them to justify a defensive war; and (5) They were not fearful of G-d, so it wasn’t a holy war.
So, why, then, did they attack us?
Amalek had in his genes a deep-seated hatred for Hashem and His people, inherited from his ignoble grandfather, Esav. Amalek was Esav’s distilled, evil essence, and was more evil even than he. With this lineage, Amalek is the enemy of G-d. Having no belief in holiness, Amalek’s raison d’etre was to destroy the holy Jewish people and to rid the world of any holiness whatsoever. Amalek alleged that it was all a hoax of one nation trying to hold itself higher and better than all the others. Hence, Amalek’s motive in warring with the Jewish people was to tear down the aura of holiness that surrounded the Jewish nation. Amalek wanted to disprove that Hashem existed and to show that it was all a hoax, that it was just Moshe’s magical powers.
The Sages derive this conclusion from verse 18, which provides that Amalek “happened upon us.” The word that means this is קרך from the word קרי , which means a coincidence. They did not accept that Hashem involves Himself with mankind, and especially the Jewish people. All the miracles in Egypt, and even the sea splitting just when the Jewish people needed to cross, were all lucky coincidences. Amalek maintained, that there is no such thing as Divine intervention by Hashem!
The word קר in Hebrew also means cold. This brings out a second nuance of what Amalek did to us. They made us cold, or, more accurately, cooled us off. Before Amalek’s attack, the surrounding nations who heard of the Jewish people’s miraculous exodus from Egypt and Hashem’s might, were petrified of the Jews and would never have attempted to start up with them. Amalek’s attack “cooled” us down and gave others the courage to jump on the bandwagon. Rashi asks us to imagine a tub filled with water so hot that nobody can enter. One person jumps in saying, “I know that I’ll get burned, but at least I’ll cool it off for the others.” Amalek’s hatred of Hashem and the Jewish people and its desire to destroy us, made it worth it for him to suffer.
Amalek’s goal was to extinguish the wave of fear that had gripped all the other countries in the region. The Torah tells us that as a result of the miracles that Hashem did for the Jewish people, the surrounding nations were shaking in their boots. The sheer might and control of the world that Hashem had displayed through the plagues and the sea’s splitting struck awe in the hearts of all who heard about it. Amalek wanted to show that, indeed, it is possible to war with them. Amalek was so evil that even though it knew that it would get burned and suffer loss of life, at least it would eliminate the Jews’ apparent invincibility and open the door for the other nations to battle with them.
This is why it is a mitzvah to eradicate Amalek. They are the essence of evil, while Hashem is the essence of good. We as His nation, are His ambassadors of good in this world. We personify, through keeping the Torah and its mitzvot, what is good and proper in the world. To honor Hashem and His holy Name, it is appropriate to rid the world of its most evil agent, Amalek, who constitute an affront to Hashem. Amalek as well did irreparable damage to the Jewish nation by cooling them off in the eyes of the surrounding nations, paving the way for them to attack.
In today’s world, it is hard to conceive of a mitzvah to eradicate an entire nation just because they are who they are, with no crime done. Perhaps the following will help us understand Hashem’s thinking, so to speak.
The Talmud in tractate Megillah (6a) tells us of a prayer that Yaakov our forefather submitted to Hashem. Yaakov prayed to Hashem that Amalek (Esav’s descendant), be unsuccessful in his attempt to take over the world. Yaakov’s prayer is recorded in Psalm 140:9:
(ט) אַל תִּתֵּן יְדֹוָד מַאֲוַיֵּי רָשָׁע זְמָמוֹ אַל תָּפֵק יָרוּמוּ סֶלָה:
9) Hashem, please does not grant the evil one’s aspirations, disallow his designs, and may they be removed forever.
The Talmud then records Rabbi Yitzchak’s explanation of this verse:
ואמר רבי יצחק: מאי דכתיב אל תתן ה’ מאויי רשע זממו אל תפק ירומו סלה? אמר יעקב לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא: רבונו של עולם אל תתן לעשו הרשע תאות לבו זממו אל תפק זו גרממיא של אדום שאלמלי הן יוצאין מחריבין כל העולם כולו
Rabbi Yitzchak explained that this prayer was offered to Hashem, by Yaakov our forefather. Yaakov asked the following of the Almighty:
“Master of the Universe, do not grant the aspirations of the evil one – Germany – the descendant of Edom, for if they succeed, they will destroy the entire world.”
Who is “the evil one” to whom Yaakov is referring? Rashi identifies the evil one referred to here as Amalek; but Rabbi Yitzchak reveals that Yaakov really meant Germany, a future descendant of Amalek!
Putting it all together, Rabb Yitzchak is telling us that Yaakov had a prophetic vision of “Germany” – a descendant of Amalek – who aspired to conquer the entire world. (Does this sound familiar?) Yaakov prayed to Hashem not to allow it to happen. In retrospect, we see that Hashem accepted Yaakov’s prayer, because, indeed, “Germany” failed in its attempt to take over the world.
We learn from Rabbi Yitzchak’s statement that the Germans descended from Amalek. But how do we know that he is referring to modern day Germany, which tried to conquer the world?
The next passage in the Talmud clarifies this matter.
ואמר רבי חמא בר חנינא: תלת מאה קטירי תגא איכא בגרממיא של אדום
Rabbi Chama the son of Chanina said, “There are three hundred crown-toting princes in this country Germany of Edom.”
The following quote is from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, W. L. Shirer, (1960), p.121:
“By the end of the middle-ages, which had seen Britain and France emerge as unified nations, Germany remained a crazy patchwork of some three hundred individual states.” (Each with its own ruler)
The Sages’ prophetic statements made over 1,500 years ago clearly connects modern day Germany to Amalek and provides us with a new insight into the events of the Holocaust. We now understand the source of the deep hatred inside these evil people and how they were able without qualms or conscience to commit the atrocities that they did. As descendants of Amalek, Jewish hatred was in their genes.
Hitler (ימ״ש) stated: (Excerpts from H. Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction)
The Jews have inflicted two wounds on mankind – circumcision on its body and conscience on its soul. These are Jewish inventions…
The Midrash (Tanchuma Ki Teze 9) relates:
ואתיא כי הא דא”ר חמא בר שקלא וריב”ל ורבי יוחנן: מה היו בית עמלק עושין? היו מחתכין מילותיהם של ישראל וזורקין כלפי מעלה ואומרים בזה בחרת? טול לך מה שבחרת!
Rebbe Chama the son of Shikla, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, and Rebbe Yochanan all said. “What did Amalek do? They would cut off the foreskins of the Jewish people (they captured) and throw them heavenward saying, ‘This is what you chose? You can have it!’”
Hitler remarkably voiced the same idea. Circumcision is an unnecessary affliction on the human body, not a holy covenant with Hashem.
A second excerpt:
It is true we are barbarians. It is an honorable title… I free humanity from the shackles of the soul, from the degrading suffering caused by the false vision called conscience and morality…
This statement echoes Amalek’s doctrine as stated in the Torah. Amalek sees spirituality, morality, and conscience as Jewish inventions, shackles that the Jewish nation has placed on the world, restricting them and choking them by expecting them to live up to a certain moral standard that governs what one should do and what one should not. Contrariwise, Amalek denies Hashem and everything associated with Him.
A third excerpt:
The war for world domination will be fought entirely between us – the Germans and the Jews. All else is façade and illusion…
Hitler clearly saw this effort as a fulfillment of his purpose in this world – to eradicate every single Jew from the face of the earth. He would, he expected, finally accomplish the mission that his ancestors and Haman had failed to complete, which was the same conflict that Yaakov and Esav had. Indeed, this was the essence of Esav and Yaakov’s epic battle : Yaakov was a holy person and lived his life in a holy way. Amalek and the Germans say, ”We, the Germans, are the superior race, cultured and polite, yet we are barbarians and proud to be so. Our way of life is the correct way to live life, without morality and conscience. That is all a fabrication of the Jewish people. They needed to invent it because they are a weak nation, and would easily be defeated by any enemy. Therefore, in self defence, the Jews created the idea of conscience, right and wrong, to deter enemies from destroying them.” Hitler felt that he was doing the entire world the greatest favor by eliminating every single Jew,thus removing the idea of right and wrong so that man could live his life as he saw fit.
Yaakov, though, says that it’s all about spirituality, not about this world at all. It’s about using your life to become a holy person. This world is only a passageway to the world to come.
Perhaps this sheds light on why the Nazis tried so hard to dehumanize their victims in the death camps. The Jews are of nobility, and they acted so even under the inhumane and unbearable conditions in the camps. The Germans tried to show that under difficult conditions, even the Jews would break down and turn into animals. They wanted to call our bluff and show that we were just putting on an act but that underneath we are the same as they. Yet they proved just the opposite. The nobility of the Jewish soul shone forth in full glory. The heroic acts of kindness that they did for each other in the face of death is the subject of countless stories throughout those horrific years that continue to inspire us to strive for their greatness.
There is another similarity between Amalek and Hitler.
Towards the end of WW II, when the Allied forces were closing in on Hitler, he continued using the Wehrmacht’s trains and precious fuel to send Jews to the death camps instead of using those vital resources to win the war. Instead of using trains to bring supplies to his fatigued troops, the maniacal Hitler chose to use those trains instead to deliver as many Jews to their deaths as he could, mirroring Amalek’s choice to undergo personal pain, jumping into a scalding hot tub as it were, as long as it will destroy the Jews.
The German’s cruelty and evil that they brought upon the Jewish people is impossible to fathom. And they did it with relish, enjoying causing and watching the suffering! But how is it possible to enjoy so much the suffering of others? This is the attribute of Amalek, which is why Hashem declared it a mitzvah to rid the world of them.
The following true story happened just a few years ago. It reveals how the Divine Spirit is still alive and well in the great Torah leaders of our times.
A Kollel man (Torah scholar) was driving down the street in his home town of Lakewood, NJ, when an elderly couple ran a stop sign. The Kollel man could not stop in time, and his car collided with the elderly couple killing them both.
A police report acquitted the Kollel man from fault for the collision, and he was not penalized. Yet he couldn’t live with himself. He could not make peace with his being the agent for the death of two innocent elderly people.
Rabbi Chayim Kanievsky, a holy sage in Bnai Brak, maintains a system whereby a person with a question can write him the question and provide a self-addressed post card on which the Rabbi will write his answer and have it sent to the sender.
The distraught Kollel man wrote to R. Kanievsky asking what was his sin that caused him to be the agent to kill the elderly couple, and how he should atone for it?
The rabbi wrote one word on the back of the postcard – Amalek – and mailed back card.
Upon receipt, the Kollel man was more confused than before. What could the rabbi have meant with this?
Soon after the elderly couple were killed, their children sold the house to a different Kollel couple in Lakewood, NJ. One day they went into the attic to find a few boxes left by the house’s previous owners. Inspecting the boxes to see if perhaps there were valuables that needed to be given to their children, they found pictures of the elderly couple in SS uniforms. They had been Nazi officers during the war, and had the blood of who knows how many Jews on their hands.
This is what the Rabbi meant with his answer on the postcard. He knew that the Kollel man had actually performed a mitzva of ridding the world of two descendants of Amalek.
Although we have seen from the Talmud that the Germans were descendants of Amalek, we cannot fulfill this mitzvah today, because we do not know who descended from whom. The Germans who participated in the Holocaust were surely descendants of Amalek, and it would surely have been a great mitzvah to kill any one of them. Nevertheless, we learn an important lesson. As Hashem’s ambassadors on this earth, we must seek to eradicate evil and hate those who promote it.