Monday, February 06, 2017

The Importance of Amalek

By HaRav Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

"Amalek came and battled with Israel in Refidim" (Shemot 17:8). The midrash says that the word Refidim hints at the fact that Isarel had weakened their hands from involvement in Torah (Tanchuma 25). The next section of the Torah is that they left Refidim and traveled to Sinai (Shemot 19:2), where they, of course, prepared themselves for receiving the Torah. As Rashi (ad loc.) comments, "Just as they came to the Sinai Desert with repentance, so did they leave Refidim with repentance."

One of the strongest questions we would seem to have on the Creator of the Universe is why he needed to create Amalek, a nation so corrupt that it cannot be salvaged through improvement but must be destroyed. In historical hindsight the answer is clear. Both the original acceptance of the Torah and the reacceptance of the Torah at the time of Mordechai and Esther came in proximity to an encounter with Amalek. "Just as praise of Hashem emanates from the righteous in Gan Eden, so does it emanate from the wicked in Gehinom" (Shemot Rabba 7:4). By wiping out Amalek, there is as much sanctification of the Divine Name as by elevating the righteous, and the two elements actually complete one another.

The universalistic side of the Jewish People causes us to sometimes blur the boundaries. We love people, and, therefore, we try to not give ourselves credit for being unique. The first promulgators of erasing nationalities were Jews. The first fighters for civil rights were Jews. Jews are at the forefront of universalism. These aspirations cause these Jews to try to deny who we are. We find it so difficult these days to hate other nations, even when a child would be able to see why it is appropriate to do so.

We make a mistake. One can feel unity without erasing distinctions. Humanity can be like one organism and still have different tasks assigned for different "parts of the body." If each part of the body is doing the same thing, then the organism is missing functions. It is, therefore, important at times to remind the Jewish People that we are unique and different from the nations. If, after a certain quiet period, we might think that we can bridge over the differences, Amalek comes to remind us that we cannot. "This is whom you wanted to join with?" After this wakeup call, we are ready to accept the Torah once again.

And this is happening these days. After we thought there is nothing unique and separate about the Jewish People, we have found our modern-day Amalek. Who knows what form the new acceptance of the Torah will be after Amalek is conquered?

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