AMALEK: ERADICATING EVIL
Shira Smiles Shiur – March 13, 2011/Adar 7, 5771
Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein
L’iluy nishmot bnei mishpachat Fogel shenishchitu al Kiddush Hashem, HY”D
Many nations and peoples have risen against us, persecuted us and tried to destroy us. Yet it is only against Amalek that Hashem commands us not only to remember, but to never forget, and against whom Hashem Himself maintains a constant battle forever, midor dor, from generation to generation. What is it about Amalek and its actions that provokes such a vehement and enduring response from Hakodosh Boruch Hu?
The Netivot Shalom responds by explaining that the war with Amalek, although played out on a real battlefield outside Refidim, represents the quintessential eternal battle of good versus evil. Amalek, in every aspect of this attack, was trying to destroy good and the representatives of good in the world. They wished to destroy Bnei Yisroel and the special bond we have with the Robonoh shel olam. They wished to blur the line between good and evil so that the world would be viewed only through the prism of nature and happenstance. Only Bnei Yisroel stood in their way, for Bnei Yisroel’s continued existence proved that there was One guarding them supernaturally, One Who performed miracles outside nature on their behalf.
But Bnei Yisroel’s own inner weakness made them vulnerable to Amalek’s attack. They asked, “Is God within us or not?” This moment of doubt had already blurred the line between absolute truth and falsehood within them, leaving an opening for Amalek to enter. This is the point Netivot Shalom identifies as the crux of the battle with Amalek. This battle, he teaches us, is not a battle between two nations; it is a battle each of us wages on a daily basis within ourselves. Each of us must overturn the Amalek within ourselves, the doubt that we allow to creep in when our faith and belief in Hashem and in His personal supervision and guidance in our personal lives and in world events falters.
Hashem gave us a day in which we can upend and overturn this demon within us more readily, as we overturned the demon of Haman, the direct descendant of Amalek in his day. And the key to help us in this battle is the unity of our people, a unity which mishlaoch manot and matanot la’evyonim is meant to foster.
How did this line between truth and falsehood, good and evil become so unclear? There was a time after creation when there was absolute clarity, but when the serpent convinced Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of right and wrong, when she and Adam made themselves rather than Hashem the arbiters of good and evil, human fallibility clouded human judgment.
The Tosher Rav of Montreal explores this idea more fully in Avodat Avodah. He traces the path of falsehood from the initial snake to Esau and then to Esau’s grandson Amalek and his progeny. Esau was the consummate bearer of falsehood. He asked his father questions with the sole purpose of currying favor with him and with absolutely no intent of living by the precepts his father expounded. He understood his lies fully. But at some point, a liar starts believing his own lies. The liar rationalizes his beliefs and actions until he truly believes that the false path he has chosen is the truly good path. In his arrogance, he assumes that his actions are correct, that he is more entitled to the riches or the prestige or the brilliant children, etc. than his neighbor. His arrogance has planted within him seeds of jealousy and discontent. Instead of being happy with the gifts Hashem has given him, he is now filled with discontent, perhaps even rage. Esau conceals the Godliness in the world, his hand covers God’s immanence, “Yad al kais (kisuy-cover) Kah.” But we are not the descendants of Esau; we must leave this mindset, build our faith in the Almighty and be grateful for the gift of every breath of life He has given us.
In Bishvili Nivrah Haolam Rav Brazil explains that the consequences of Adam’s eating of the Tree of Knowledge were meant to be corrective rather than punitive. For him, “thorns and thistles – kotz vedar-dar -will [the earth] sprout.” The dar-dar, posits Rav Brazil, does not refer to the thistles that grow from the earth, making farming more difficult. Rather they refer to the confusion one may have between the daled and the reish, a diference of only a short, thorn-like protrusion from the side of the daled that does not appear on the reish. This ambiguity will cause one to confuse Hashem Elokeinu Hashem EchoD, with lo tishtachavu l’el acheR, confusing the One God with another god. This is the doubt that Amalek brings to the world. His very name equals doubt in gematria, Jewish numerology – AMaLeK=240, and sofek=240. The eternal battle within us, continues Rav Brazil is to recognize the dar-dar, Therefore Hashem maintains this battle with Amalek medor dor (written chasser, without the “vov”). It is also the struggle of our own lives, as we are the descendants of Adam and face the consequences of his sin.
It now becomes easier to explore the significance of the Megillah and the miracle it describes. Rav Lugassi in BeYam Derech explains that the goal Mordechai and Esther had in writing the Megillah was specifically to show Hashem’s presence in all aspects of the world. They omitted Hashem’s name intentionally and wrote a nine year chronology of a string of “coincidences” to show that even when we do not see Hashem’s hand through overt miracles, as we did during the exodus from Egypt, we must still see His hand in the hidden miracles of everyday life. In the desert, Amalek had tried to destroy that concept by waging a very real war on our people. In their mind, Bnei Yisroel was nothing special, certainly no better than they were. While God may have performed miracles for them in Egypt, now, in the real world, natural law would take over and Amalek’s superior army would vanquish Israel. They lost the battle, but they succeeded in implanting that moment of doubt in our people in the embryonic stage of our nationhood, when the memory of the open miracles of Mitzraim were fresh in our minds. Without Amalek’s attack, we would have internalized this faith and never doubted Hashem’s guiding hand in every aspect of our lives and on the world stage.
Our Rabbis have ordained that we do not recite Hallel on Purim. Rather, we read the Megillah, for the Megillah itself is a song of praise to Hakodosh Boruch Hu Who orchestrates all events according to His plan. The Megillah is the ultimate paean to Hashem’s involvement in humankind and especially in the welfare of our people. It is the greatest rebuttal to the Hamans of the world who view Bnei Yisroel as nothing special, an insignificant people disconnected from each other and dispersed throughout the world.
We are meant to tear away the costumes and masks on Purim, continues Rav Lugassi. Although Hashem’s hand may be hidden in the world, we must tear away the veil and recognize His presence in all. Internalizing the message of the Megillah gives our faith the impetus to grow. It allows us to appreciate our gifts without feeling deprived that our neighbor seems to have more than we do says Rabbi Fogel. It creates the unity and love for our fellow Jew that is so necessary for our survival as a people from the moment we camped as one at Sinai to this day.
We believe in machar, tomorrow. As Moshe, Yehoshua and Bnei Yisroel prepared for battle with Amalek the next day, so must we all be vigilant to believe in tomorrow, that while we may not recognize Hashem’s hand in today’s events, it is nevertheless there. Tomorrow will come. Amalek the atheist believes only in today, in the moment. That’s why, says Rabbi Leff, Amalek attacked us on the path, hoping to stop us in our tracks, nullifying the tomorrow. The Megillah proves that Hashem has a divine plan for us and for the world.
In these trying times, when it seems that Hashem has hidden His face from us, let us take heart in the lessons of Purim and the Megillah. Let us strengthen our faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu, let us love each other, and let us pray that Hashem will reveal His presence so that all will recognize Who He is. Let us remove the costumes and masks that cloud our judgment until that great day when Hashem confirms His relationship with us openly and our enemies in the world no longer try to destroy us. May we experience the final Purim speedily in our day.