by Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Dedicated to the memory of Yakov Ben Behora
"Amalek came and went to war with Israel in Refidim". (Shemos 17:8)
It is in this week's parshah that Amalek makes his debut onto the world scene, and as the anti-thesis of the Jewish people. In fact, his attitude and attack are so eternally offensive that God Himself took an oath to be at war with Amalek until his demise at the end of days.
However, though most people think of this as war in the desert, outside and away from Eretz Yisroel, in truth, it was a war ABOUT Eretz Yisroel.
The Gaon from Vilna explained why:
The war against Amalek is in every generation, and against... Amalek of the heart, that is, the evil inclination, and the spirit of Amalek-the adversary of Israel... This is Samael and his hosts, whose main power is in the gates of Jerusalem when its lands are desolate…The strength and rulership of Amalek's spirit is in the gates of Jerusalem, as mentioned above, but only when there is destruction and desolation near the gates and in the unwalled areas of Jerusalem... This delays the connection between the Jerusalem of below and Jerusalem of above... The war against the desolation is waged not only by setting up tents of Ya'akov and dwelling places of Israel in their respective places, but also by planting its land and fulfilling the commandments dependent on it. (Kol HaTor, Chapter 7)
Thus, Amalek uprooted himself to wage war against the Jewish people in the desert to keep them there, that is, to prevent them from coming to Eretz Yisroel, settling the land, and developing it. The unification of the Jewish people with the land promised to their ancestors has the direct effect of increasing holiness in the world, and eliminating evil. To survive, Amalek had to stop that process in its tracks; he has continued to do so over the generations until this very day.
According to the Shem M'Shmuel, Balak and Bilaam, when they tried to curse the Jewish people, had attempted the same goal for the same reason as Amalek, (Shem M'Shmuel, Balak). Thus, it is not surprising to learn that, according to the Zohar, the combination of their two names produces two words: Amalek, and Bavel (Babylonia, in English)-the location of the first Jewish exile from Eretz Yisroel.
Like Amalek, their spiritual ancestor, Balak and Bilaam had understood that the Jewish people moving into Eretz Yisroel had the power to bring history and evil to their respective ends. Thus, for them, like Amalek, their survival depended upon keeping the Jewish people in exile.
And thus now, after thousands of years of exile, during which Eretz Yisroel had remained desolate and almost uninhabitable, we have to ask the question, who's keeping us out now? As we witness the re-building and re-populating of the land of Tanach, we have to honestly ask ourselves, against whom is the real battle today, if not Amalek-on whatever front he is waging it?
To return home to Eretz Yisroel and to end her desolation-physical and spiritual-is to win the war against Amalek. To fulfill the mitzvos dependent upon the Land is to push the spirit of impurity from her borders, and eventually, from the world itself. The war against Amalek first began in the desert in Moshe Rabbeinu's time. Let it end, once and for all, in ours.