`240 A Primer on Amalek Part 1
Chananya Weissman

November 17, 2022

 

The greatest trick Amalek ever pulled was convincing people he no longer exists, or never did, or that he won't do it again.

Many years ago I was invited to give a short Dvar Torah on Shabbos morning at a small minyan in the Katamon area of Jerusalem. They were ostensibly Orthodox, which should go without saying. As it was Parshas Ki Seitzei, I decided to speak briefly about Amalek and the mitzvah for us to wipe out any trace of this evil nation. I offered no novel interpretations, but I made it clear that Amalek is a real nation with real people that still roams the earth, and, although it is not practical for us to fulfill this mitzvah in the truest sense at present, we should all yearn for the day when we can, and be ready to personally participate when the time comes, may it be soon, with the same joy we should have when performing any other mitzvah.

I was informed shortly thereafter by the person who invited me that many people in the shul had expressed great offense at my Dvar Torah, and although he personally had no problem with it, they asked that he not invite me to speak again.

(A few months later the minyan ran into an unexpected problem with the facility that had hosted them for many years. They were unable to resolve the problem, they were unable to find a new location, and the minyan was forced to disband. I wouldn't be so bold as to claim there is any connection, but, in a certain sense, it's midah k'negged midah, measure for measure.)

If someone wishes to convert to Judaism but refuses to accept a single mitzvah, or denies even a single letter of the Torah, he is rejected. Similarly, if one who is already Jewish does the same, he is a mumar, a rebel against the Torah and Hashem, and he is cast out of the community accordingly.

As we currently live in societies overrun with heresy, we do not rush to condemn those who never received a proper education (which unfortunately is the overwhelming majority of Jews, even “Orthodox” ones), and instead consider them like children who were kidnapped at birth, who cannot be expected to understand how far they are from the truth.

However, those who know what the Torah says about Amalek, but reject it because they believe they are more enlightened and loving than the One who gave it to us, who feel it is their privilege – nay, moral duty – to explain away the parts of the Torah that do not gel with Western ideology, even to redefine them out of existence, who express shame and revulsion for the “primitive and barbaric” Jews who refuse to evolve along with them – such Jews are outside the pale.

They are also incredibly stupid, for Amalek is alive and well, leering at them, and feverishly planning their destruction, while they signal nonexistent virtues and sabotage themselves.

For those who believe in the Torah, yet were duped into believing that Amalek no longer exists or is no longer relevant, perhaps the following primary Torah sources that they were surely never taught will help them come around. Perhaps they will not need to learn the hard way yet again.

Let's start at the beginning.

Before Amalek became a nation, he was a person by that name. Specifically, he was the grandson of Esav, the mortal enemy of Yaacov, progenitor of the Jewish nation. Esav's multiple attempts to murder Yaacov failed. Although Esav was forced to reconcile himself to Yaacov living out his days in peace, he resolved to bring total war to his descendants in perpetuity. There would be lulls in the war primarily for practical and strategic purposes, and even the rare gesture of conviviality, but the hatred of Esav for Yaacov would continue to seethe, ready to burst forth like a volcano at any time.

Indeed, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai teaches that it is a halacha that Esav hates Yaacov (Sifrei cited by Rashi on Bereishis 33:4). Just as halacha, Jewish law, is immutable, it is an immutable fact of the world that Esav hates Yaacov. This hatred can be suppressed for a time, and it may even be temporarily mitigated, but at the core the hatred will always be there.

We are regularly given the insipid newsflash that “antisemitism is on the rise”. How they define and measure antisemitism is dubious – police reports and surveys make for catchy headlines and social media fodder – but antisemitism is somehow always on the rise. And because antisemitism is always on the rise, we must fight it, and we fight it by clucking our tongues, and speaking out against hate – all forms of it – and we call for a celebrity who expressed his hatred for the Jew indelicately to perform a loathesome penitence ritual and pay a large fine to a self-serving Jewish-in-name-only organization that does little but issue statements and embarrass the Jewish people they don't really represent. Then we proclaim a victory against antisemitism, though somehow it still continues to rise.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai already informed us thousands of years ago, based on Torah and tradition from a thousand more years ago, that hatred for the Jew – particularly from Esav – is ever-present and steady. Sometimes it just goes undercover or hibernates, but it's always there. That's a halacha.

Esav had a son, Eliphaz, who had no special love for Yaacov, but he was a practical man and not obsessed with killing him. Esav sent Eliphaz to assassinate Yaacov when the latter left home to travel to Lavan, but Eliphaz took a large bribe instead and let his uncle go. How large was the bribe? Everything Yaacov had, but still he let him go. This is the good side of Esav, the one who can be reasoned with and persuaded to accept gold instead of blood. You keep a prudent distance from him, but you can do business with him.

Eliphaz had a son called Amalek. Amalek, unlike his father, was an idealist, a purist.

One day Amalek asked his father who will inherit this world and the world to come. Eliphaz told him it would be the children of Israel, his cousins, and advised Amalek to dig wells and build roads for their benefit. That way he would merit a place in the world to come along with them.

Amalek rejected his father's advice. He chose the path of his grandfather, Esav, to carry an endless obsession with destroying the Jewish people.

But Amalek took it even further than his grandfather. Whereas Esav wanted “only” to destroy the Jewish people, Amalek set out to destroy the entire world. If he couldn't have everything for himself, on his terms, then he would bring it all down with him (Eliyahu Rabba 24:1).

This became Amalek's spiritual purpose, his very essence, and the nation that came from his loins has faithfully carried this mission ever since.

To be continued.

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