Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Beshalach 5769 – Remember Amalek

Teh end of the Parsha concludes with the battle against Amalek and the promise from g-d that he will totally obliterate them. this promise is reinforced by the statement “He said, ‘The Hand is on God’s Throne. God shall be at war with Amalek for all generations.’ ” In other words, it is not just an idle promise, but a vow that G-d is bound by!

Now it is true that Amalek attacked us in the desert, and they did so in a cowardly manner, attacking the women and children from behind, but is this a reason for G-d to promise their complete annihilation? Midian attacked us in the desert- they even tried to destroy us spiritually at Baal Peor. Amalek attacked us in the desert- and the reason for Hashem taking the Jews the long way round as they left Egypt was to avoid the land of the Philistines, so they would also probably have attacked us. On the surface of it- one can’t blame them for it- after all, if a large encampment of armed people suddenly starts going through your land (and we are told in the Torah that Bnei Yisrael were armed when they left Egypt) you would be understandably worried about their intentions. So why this specific hatred for Amalek?

On the one hand you can understand it as Rashi has- that this was after the greatest moment in history. Hashem had saved the Jews and brought them out of Egypt. The sea had split and drowned the Egyptian army and Hashem had appeared before 2 million people at Sinai to give Moshe the Torah. At this point the world was terrified of Bnei Yisrael. they knew of these wonders and they feared Hashem. What did Amalek do? They ignored this- they attacked Bnei Yisrael, showing the rest of the world that they could be attacked. From there action the unthinkable became thinkable. The later wars may never have happened if amalek had not attacked Bnei Yisrael.

This war can be understood at a much deeper level. Amalek represents the physical, the ultimate grounding in this world while ignoring the spiritual. For Amalek, the miracles that had occurred were explained away as natural disasters, as stories, exaggerations. To them, the divine did not exist. They were the opposite of Bnei Yisrael- rooted int he physical as opposed to Bnei Yisrael that were elevated to Hashem’s representatives on earth, the nation to show the world the path to Hashem. Thus Amalek felt free to attack- they were strong, they had mighty armies- why not attack the women and children? Why not steal goods and take slaves? Being rooted in the physical they lived by the “Might is right” and the idea that if you can take it, it is yours. Thus we see in the war against Amalek pure might of arms was not enough. When Bnei Yisrael goes out to fight they only win while Moshe prays, while the spiritual is there to help. When Moshe tired and his prayers faltered, then Bnei Yisrael would start loosing. To defeat the physical one needs to have the help of Hashem.

It is what Amalek represents that makes them so reprehensible. Teh war against Amalek, the promise that they would ultimately be defeated, is a war against the physical pull of the world. The war against Amalek is the war against the degradation of a life that is dedicated to physical pursuits, a life totally devoid of spirituality and only active in seeking pleasure. It is the debasement of the soul to the level of a purely instinctual creature whose only purpose in existence is physical pleasure. Our purpose in this world is the elevation of our souls through the elevation of our bodies from the animal to the holy. Amalek represents the antithesis of that, and thus why they are singled out for such hatred.

Of course this story is more about just the physical nation of Amalek- but it is also about the figurative notion of what they represent. It is up to us to defeat the Amalek within, the desires for purely physical pleasures no matter what the context. The Torah does not tell us to afflict ourselves; it does not call for aescetism or absitnence. What it calls for is for us to realise that for everything there are channels that are good, and others that are bad. It calls for us to realise the difference, to control oursleves, and to elevate ourselves, through those channels that are good and enhance our
spirituality.

Note: As always comments, corrections, questions and debates are welcomed.

Disclaimer: I am not a Rabbi and cannot pasken sheilahs. I welcome emails to discuss issues of halachah and will offer advice where I can. However, I cannot pasken for you or give a heter. Those who have contacted me in this regard, I am very flattered but must refer you back to your local Orthodox Rabbi, or to the “Ask the Rabbi” forum at Yeshiva.org (in english at English Yeshiva.org.il or at Ask Moses

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February 5, 2009 - Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , ,

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