CHILLING WITH AMALEK
G-d told Moshe to pass on the message that He is at constant war with Amalek, in each and every generation. In each generation we must ask ourselves to identify the current Amalek, who is continuing the age-old war against recognizing the monarchy of G-d. Who is the today’s Amalek causing something to be missing from G-d’s Throne, and to be lacking the full complement of letters from His Name.
We can look a bit deeper into exactly how Amalek fought the Jews in the first battle. This can shed light on how he fights us today, and reveal “who” he is. The Rebbe from Pasishche made an amazing observation. If we study the words of the Parashat Zachor, we may notice that the Torah describes what Amalek did to us in singular form. זכור means “remember” – in singular; אשר קרך בדרך that “happened upon” you (singular) on the way …ויזנב בך כל הנחשלים אחריך and he struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at your rear… ואתה עיף ויגע ולא ירא אלקים when you were faint and exhausted and without fear of G-d… Each time the word “you” is mentioned in these psukkim, it is in the singular form. Why does the Torah refer to Amalek’s attack on the Jews as an attack on individuals, and not on the nation as a whole?
We learn from the Midrash that the Jews who were attacked by Amalek were from the tribe of Dan , the tribe who walked behind all the others. There were idol worshippers in their number. Amalek approached the Jews at a time when they questioned G-d’s Presence among them – when the Jews were not studying Torah with the enthusiasm that they were capable of . Amalek could not strike the Jews who were surrounded by the Clouds of Glory, serving as a shield. Rather, they borrowed the listings of the Jewish names from Egyptian archives and stood outside the clouds, calling out (with a voice of fondness and brotherhood) to those who were falling behind, to those who could not give up their lust for idolatry. “Reuven ben Shimon, you are being paged!” As Reuven walked out, not knowing who was calling him, Amalek murdered him. One after the other, those of weakened faith were called out… This is how Amalek strikes. He goes for the “dropouts”. And G-d is not willing to give up on even one of the dropouts. He is willing to wage war with Amalek until the end of time, in order to get each and every Jewish soul back. And we, those who read Parashat Zachor every year, are the generals in this everlasting war.
The Rebbe would say that Amalek does not just strike. He tries to look for where there is no unity or community. This is the very characteristic of Amalek, as we can openly see in the words that our Rabbis termed the greatest slander that Haman was able to use against us:ישנו עם אחד מפוזר ומפורד בין העמים There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed … (Esther 3:8) Our weakness, our lack of unity was and is Amalek’s power against us. And to defuse this power of Amalek, we put to use our time, money and effort to do the Mitzvot of Mishloach Manot and Matanot La’evyonim, to bring unity to our people, ultimately fighting the power of Amalek.
We may ask ourselves how Amalek causes disunity amongst us. The Torah answers exactly what he doesאשר קרך בדרך that he “happened upon” you…(implying chance, random occurrence) Rashi, in accordance with the Midrash, explains these words with another explanation – that he cooled you down.
R’ Z. Wallerstien once explained this to a group of teenagers. There is a word that is commonly used when you ask a teen what he was doing out till late ( shall we say, 3 AM) and he answers “I was chilling”. What is chilling? Chilling means not doing anything to answer up to responsibilities. It means ignoring that one has responsibilities. This can, mistakenly, be confused with pleasure. Chilling is not pleasure; rather, it is a fear and an avoidance of the “pain” of behaving with responsibility. Being up till 3 in the morning, doing nothing constructive, is simply saying, “I do not have to be responsible for tomorrow.” People somehow get into this habit of “chilling”; it’s usually done by finding others who are “on the same page” – finding people who are “chilling” to chill with. That’s all it is.
When the Jews were not studying the Torah the way that they were supposed to – they were shirking their responsibilities. People are shying away from their responsibilities when they do not pay attention to those who are falling out of the community. Of course these people who are falling to the wayside are too busy chilling but maybe the members of the community are chilling as well from their responsibility to care. For their responsibility to fight for every Jewish soul.
The first thing that dropouts do to “chill” is to say to themselves, “We do not need the community. We do not need others, nor do we care what they think of us.” Often, this attitude is a result of their feeling that they are unimportant in the eyes of their peers. So, they start to chill – to do nothing with their time and wait for someone (Amalek) to call to them by name and say, “Leave your camp. We care for you out here.” They walk out and get strangled. It gives us much food for thought about this deep, eternally insightful commentary that the word “קרך”- that he cooled you down is used so concisely for the same type of attitude in the 21st Century.
G-d does not give up on any one of his children, even if they end up as idol worshippers and fall into the claws of Amalek. And, in every generation he asks us to fight his battle to save those who are falling behind. Let us fight Amalek by keeping a sense of unity. Let us fight Amalek by recognizing our responsibilities to our Torah study and to each other. Then, we will merit a redemption like the one in the days of Mordechai and Esther. And on that day, G-d will be One and His Name will be One, together with us and with all of our brethren in theHolyTemple. Amen.
ERASING AMALEK FROM OUR SOLES AND SOULS
It has been said that when the Rebbe Reb Heshel needed to test the ink in his quill, he would not scribble just anything and then erase it. He would write Amalek or Haman and then scribble over it. Many people practiced this custom of writing the name of Amalek or Haman on the sole of their shoe and then stamping it out by stepping on it. It is not enough just trying to forget about Amalek: we are commanded to actively erase his name. We must remember, and erase. Write, and cross out. This is in contrast to many things that are to be erased and never again mentioned. What is different about the remembrance of Amalek?
Our Rabbis tell us what it was that made Amalek worse than all the other nations who caused us pain and suffering. Amalek came to wage war with the Jews when they were considered by all the other peoples as ” off bounds”. The nations of the world were petrified: as described in Rashi, who would have considered “stepping into the hot bath” and confronting the Nation of Miracles? Amalek came and “cooled down the bath” for all the others who wanted to fight the Nation of G-d. (See Rashi Devarim 25:18)
There is difficulty understanding why this made Amalek much worse than the others. Amalek, who had initiated the attack, had gotten burnt. If anything, this would show the nations of the world not to consider making trouble for the Jews. Everyone else should have learnt not to follow suit. But this was not the case. Amalek is held accountable for having made fighting the Jews and their G-d open for discussion as well as negotiable . “Maybe we lost because we did not have the right strategy – because we were alone – because we were not strong enough. Maybe someone else could win. Maybe it can be done.”
Until Amalek came, this was not an option. Amalek planted the seeds of doubt in what had been accepted as fact. The numerical value of Amalek ע מ ל ק) = 240) is doubt ס פ ק)= 240). This doubt is a focal place in our service to G-d: we fall when we begin to doubt our core beliefs, and we question doing things that, in our heart, we know to be right.
Amalek is guilty on an additional count: Bilaam advised Amalek as to how to choose the proper timing: they were to wait until the Jews would be in a state of עיף ויגע ולא ירא אלקים when you were faint and exhausted and without fear of G-d. This was their heretical strategy. They did not come just to fight. They flaunted their lack of fear of the Jewish G-d by showing that their calculation was based only on the strength of the people. Once the Jewish people were weak, Amalek could win. “Who says that we cannot fight them or their G-d?” Despite the fact that this was within the year of the Ten Plagues and the Splitting of the Red Sea, Amalek had the audacity to ignore the reality, the facts. “Maybe it was all chance?” As Rashi explains, this is one of the three possible explanations to the words “דרך מקרה– “אשר קרך בדרך happenstance. G-d’s Name is established and complete when humanity recognizes Him. Amalek decided to openly ignore Him, and thus, caused the last two letters of His Name to be missing.
Amalek, Haman and other Amelikite descendants all have one thing in common: they make their appearance when the Jews believe that G-d is absent or doubt His presence among them. Amalekite “modus operandi” – work style – is to support this negative belief when we have it. They appeared when we asked, consciously or subconsciously, “Where is G-d?”. The Midrash relates that Amalek came to fight after we asked each other in Masa , “Is G-d among us ? If we do not see him, He must not be around.” Or – “If He exists, we should not have to express our prayers verbally and ask for food – He should be able to read our minds!” After such thoughts, G-d called to Amalek and then we realized, without a shadow of a doubt, that our only hope was to cry out to G-d! We know then, in times when we are keenly aware that we need Him, that He is among us, and He answers our prayers. Suddenly, the philosophical doubts Of G-d’s presence in our midst dissipate.
Mordecai, the first person to be called Yehudi, was a living force against this. He would walk out with the T’chelet – blue – to remind everyone and himself in exile of the sky, which ultimately brings to mind the knowledge of G-d’s Presence everywhere , similar to the visual reminder found in the T’chelet strings of Tzizit. Mordecai intended to walk publicly, clothed in this color to demonstrate that G-d is actually here with us. Using the T’chelet as a kind of banner, he demonstrated that Amalek and their atheist beliefs were nonsensical. He reestablished the Name of G-d in his generation. And if we take the last two letters of יהודי , the ד and י) י underneath ד ) form the letter ה revealing the ending letters ofו”ה that Amalek tried to ignore and erase from the world!
This is a battle for us as well. We must actively erase the Amalek’s banner of doubt, and anything that reminds us of even a suggestion of a belief that G-d is not amongst us.
Shabbat Shalom, Yosef Farhi
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