`242 A Primer on Amalek Part 3
Chananya Weissman

November 24, 2022

 

It is a great failure of our society that a Jew can attend the “best” yeshivos from an early age, yet never learn that we faced Amalek a second time in the desert. They might be able to repeat a complex discourse on five different ways of reading a line of Gemara, or split hairs on hypothetical minutiae, but when it comes to the fundamentals of the Torah and our history they can offer only blank stares and fumbling responses to those who might question them. Our education system – if it can be called that – creates argumentative yet cowardly scholars who devote their studies to the Torah equivalent of calculus without ever having learned arithmetic.

As our second encounter with Amalek occurs in Parshas Chukas, which generally occurs during summer vacation, there is virtually no chance it would be part of any school curriculum. For someone to “discover” it, he must decide to study Chumash on his own, and by the time a Jew is old enough to do that, chances are he won't want to “waste his time” on Tanach when he can split another Talmudic hair and impress those around him.

Even if one paid attention to the Torah reading, he would still miss it, for Amalek's name doesn't appear in the text. One would have to look at least as far as Rashi to discover there is more here than meets the eye, and what Talmudic scholar with an ounce of dignity would be caught studying Chumash and Rashi?

I begin with this digression because our collective disconnection from the fundamentals, even as Talmudic scholars and intellectuals abound, is devastating on many levels. The information I am about to share with you should not be a chiddush. It should not be something I had to learn on my own well into adulthood and gradually put together. We should have all learned this by fifth grade, and the presentation that follows should be merely a review.

I don't know how much control Amalek and the Erev Rav have over our children's education, but the greatest gift we could give our enemies is to marginalize and trivialize the fundamentals. We're easy prey.

End of rant. Let's turn to Bamidbar 21.

The forty years in the desert were nearing their end, but our travails were far from over. Aharon HaKohen, who had lovingly shepherded the Jews in Egypt and in the desert, had died, throwing the nation into turmoil. The clouds of glory that surrounded the Jews in his merit temporarily dissipated while they mourned.

The “Canaanites” happened to be lurking nearby. They noticed that the Jews were suddenly exposed, and took this as an invitation to attack them, even managing to take a captive. Although the Jews regrouped and took vengeance on their attackers, the battle took a deeper toll on many of the people, who were already in a fragile state.

Despite being so close to their destination, despair set in. Many Jews lost their faith – the constant miracles all around them lost their effect, as inevitably they do – and they decided they had enough. An undercurrent of rebellion that had flared up at various times reached a new peak. Several families joined together, appointed a leader, and broke away from the nation. They were returning to Egypt to be slaves.

They retraced their steps for seven journeys, throwing away the yoke of Torah for the yoke of the gentile taskmaster – a bargain many continued to strike ever since. The greatest yetzer hara of the Jew – including Orthodox Jews – is to be approved by the goyim, to emulate them (even if only in subtle ways), to be dependent upon them, and to be subservient to them in a land other than their own. This is the precise opposite of the very reason for the Jewish people to exist, and thus the greatest threat to our existence throughout history, present times included.

However, the dream of these rebels in the desert to abandon Jewish destiny for a hell they had become used to was not to be. The tribe of Levi chased after them and overtook them at Moseira, where a civil war ensued. The Levites killed seven families of renegades and lost four of their own in the battle – but they succeeded in ending the rebellion. When it was finally over the survivors mourned Aharon's death again, for it had precipitated this tragic spiral, and returned to the nation (see Rashi on Bamidbar 21:4 and 26:13).

The Torah only hints at this civil war, most likely out of sensitivity for the fact that this rebellion was caused more by grief and emotional turmoil than wickedness.

But there is another hint in the Torah with even greater implications. The “Canaanites” who had attacked the Jews, which broke the spirits of many of the people and set a rebellion in motion, were actually Amalek. As Rashi on Bamidbar 21:1 explains, it was Amalek who dwelled in the Eretz HaNegev mentioned there, and Amalek was always on standby, a whip of punishment ready to attack the Jews at all times.

The Jews had lost faith and sunk into despair after Aharon died. Nothing charges Amalek's batteries like loss of faith. As we saw in our first encounter with them, whenever Moshe lowered his hands and the Jews lost some of their divine connection, Amalek got the upper hand. When Moshe's hands were raised and the Jews looked to heaven, they got the upper hand, and ultimately defeated Amalek.

The same pattern repeated itself here. After their initial setback, the Jews regrouped, turned to Hashem, and proceeded to decimate their attackers.

But why does the Torah refer to Amalek here as Canaanites?

Rashi explains that Amalek approached the Jews dressed as Amalek, but speaking in the language of the Canaanites. This was intended to confuse the Jews so they would ask Hashem to save them from the Canaanites, and render their prayers ineffective. The Jews were indeed confused, but finally prayed simply for Hashem to deliver “these people” in their hands, whoever they were, without being too specific.

There are critical lessons here about our ongoing war with Amalek:

1) As we saw in the Mechilta, the first time Amalek came upon us was the only time they showed themselves as such. From now on they were playing dress-up and engaging in subterfuge. This time they disguised themselves as Canaanites, but they would assume many other identities as time went on.

2) Amalek is most concerned with the power of Jewish prayer, and they go to great lengths to neutralize our ability to pray effectively.

Rashi's source, the Yalkut Shimoni 764:13, adds important details and background:

“If it was Amalek, why does the Torah call him Canaanite? Because Israel was forbidden to wage war against Esav, as it says 'Do not start up with them, etc.' (Devarim 2:5). [However] when Amalek came upon them one time and a second time and started up with them, Hashem said to [the Jews] this one isn't forbidden to you like the [other] sons of Esav, but he is to you like the Canaanites, about whom it says 'You shall utterly destroy them' (Devarim 20:17). Therefore they are called Canaanites.

“Amalek was always ready to strike Israel when they rebelled. We find that when they said 'Is Hashem in our midst?', immediately 'And Amalek came'. Here as well, 'And the entire congregation saw that Aharon had perished, and the Canaanite, king of Arad heard, etc.'. [The Jews said] 'Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt', and Amalek went down [to wage war against them].”

The Midrash then relates the flight from the nation and the civil war, and seems to indicate that this preceded the war with Amalek. If that is the case, we can well understand that their vulnerability to attack was not “merely” for a loss of faith following the death of Aharon, but as a punishment for the terrible sin of the rebellion.

The Midrash continues as follows:

“Esav said to Amalek, 'How much I tried to kill Yaacov! But he was not given into my hands. Set your mind to collect my revenge.'

“Amalek said to him, 'How can I successfully engage him?'

“Esav said to him, 'This tradition should be in your hands: when you see that they stumble with something, go and jump upon them...”

Amalek rejected the advice of his father, Eliphaz, and instead carried the eternal, implacable hatred of his grandfather, Esav. His entire existence revolved around waging war against the Jewish people, and, both directly and indirectly, bringing down the rest of the world as well. This tradition – the seething hatred for Israel and God's world – would be passed down from generation to generation, and the war would continue until the end of days. When Amalek is unable to show his true face or wage war directly, he goes undercover and continues the war through proxy and subterfuge.

It is Amalek that would form and maintain secret societies over centuries that plot to take over the world, with an emphasis on destroying the Jewish people. There are many who lust for power and harbor hatred for the Jews, but none is so devoted, so organized, and so ruthless like Amalek. Unlike the others, Amalek is not driven by greed or personal ambition, but by a Satanic religion that consumes them.

It is why the Germans diverted critical manpower and resources to murdering as many Jews as possible, for as long as possible, even though it cost them dearly as the war turned against them. This defies all logic, unless one realizes that the Nazis were Amalek, and annihilitating the Jewish people was their war. World domination was secondary. That could wait.

The Yalkut Shimoni then describes how Amalek came against Israel when the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed. Although it was Bavel who was the dominant force at the time, Amalek watched as the Jews deteriorated spiritually and materially, and seized on the opportunity. They lingered a short distance away and watched the battle for Jerusalem. “He said to himself, 'If Israel wins, I will say I came to help you, and if the kingdom of Bavel wins, I will turn against Israel and murder them', as it says 'Don't stand by the juncture to cut off his survivors' (Ovadia 1:14).”

This is a perfect example of Amalek always remaining close to the Jewish people, taking their spiritual temperature, and jumping on the Jews when they are vulnerable – all while posing as allies.

Indeed, the Midrash then relates that Amalek played the same game centuries earlier, when they ambushed the Jews after Aharon died. “Rabbi Tanchum bar Chanilai said, when they heard that Aharon died, they armed themselves from within [their garments] and dressed [normally] from without, and they came as if they were mourners.”

Amalek saw that the clouds had dissipated, but before they attacked they needed to scope out the spiritual situation of the Jews. If the Jews were vulnerable, they would attack. If not, they came prepared with a disguise and a cover story. Classic Amalek.

The Yalkut Shimoni concludes:

“[Amalek] said, 'We know that they have an heirloom from their fathers, that [Yitzchak] said to them 'The voice is the voice of Yaacov', that they pray and are heard. We will come upon them and they will think we are the children of Canaan, and they will pray about the Canaanites, and we will murder them.'

“When they saw that the form of their faces was that of Amalek, but their dress and speech was that of the Canaanites, they said 'Master of the world, we don't know who they are. In any case, do justice against them,' as it says 'If you will give these people [in my hand]'. Immediately, 'Hashem heard the voice of Israel.'”

It is no coincidence that during the Covid portion of today's war against humanity, which is spearheaded by Amalek, they placed a particular emphasis on closing down the shuls and yeshivos. Amalek has faithfully transmitted the tradition that our power lies in our prayers and Torah, and they strategize accordingly to short-circuit our spiritual defenses.

Do you understand now what's really going on? Do you realize that this is not a series of coincidences or natural events, but the latest – most likely final – chapter in a war with Amalek that has spanned thousands of years?

We cannot defeat an enemy that we do not recognize, or are unsure even exists.

Amalek knows this quite well, which is why they disguise themselves as various other nationalities and come as friends, as saviors from crises real, imagined, exaggerated, or orchestrated by them.

Amalek also knows the power of our prayers and faith.

If only we knew it as much as they do.

If we armed ourselves only with this information, we would be well on our way to defeating Amalek. But there is still more to learn from the Torah and Chazal to round out our understanding of Amalek and his methods.

After all, for thousands of years Amalek has been lurking around us, watching us, collecting data, analyzing us, and fine-tuning their strategies against us, while we denied they were even there at all. Let's finally wake up and catch up.

To be continued.

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