Our courageous, beloved IDF soldiers are fighting the war against our vicious enemies who threaten our physical existence – while Jews everywhere wage a different war, to ensure our nation’s spiritual survival.
This month, we read about the first time our nation has been forced to fight a war. After the Exodus from Egypt, as our ancestors made their way toward the Sinai desert, where they would receive the Torah, they came under attack by the evil nation of Amalek. Moshe instructed his closest disciple, Yehoshua, to mobilize an army in order to defend the people. Miraculously, Beneh Yisrael subdued Amalek’s forces, but without eradicating them completely. Amalek would return on several occasions in the future, and, in fact, Gd proclaimed that His struggle against Amalek will be waged “midor dor” – for all time (Shemot 17:16).
The unique gravity of Amalek’s assault on our ancestors is reflected by the famous command to recall this incident, a mitzvah which we customarily observe on the Shabbat before Purim. And, we are commanded to eradicate this evil nation from the face of the earth.
What is so unique about Amalek? What does this nation represent, and why does the Torah so emphatically demand that we remember what they did?
Sabotaging the Process of the World’s Rectification
The first clue to the answer is the verse in which the Torah commands us to remember Amalek’s attack: “Zachor et asher asah lecha Amalek baderech, betzetchem miMitzrayim – Remember that which Amalek did to you along the road, after you left Egypt” (Devarim 25:17).
Significantly, the Torah emphasizes that Amalek launched its attack “along the road,” as Beneh Yisrael were journeying. As mentioned above, Beneh Yisrael were on their way from Egypt to Mount Sinai, where they would receive the Torah, which was to have been the moment of the world’s rectification. Ever since Adam and Havah’s sin in Gan Eden, the world waited for the time when the damage caused by that sin would be fully repaired. This was to have happened at the time of Matan Torah, when Gd revealed Himself to our ancestors at Mount Sinai and gave them the Torah. Unfortunately, however, although Beneh Yisrael succeeded in defending themselves from Amalek’s aggression, the spiritual effects of this attack lingered, such that the long-anticipated rectification of the world could not occur at that time, even when the Torah was given.
Forty years later, as Beneh Yisrael were poised to cross into the Land of Israel, two evil men – Balak and Bilam – conspired to annihilate Beneh Yisrael by placing a curse on them. Although this effort failed, they succeeded in luring Beneh Yisrael to idol-worship and immorality, resulting in a deadly plague (Bamidbar 25). This plague would have annihilated the entire nation, if Pinhas hadn’t arisen to avenge Gd’s honor by killing two public violators (Bamidbar 25:11). The last two letters of Bilam’s name – ayin and men – combined with the last two letters of Balak’s name – lamed and kof – spell “Amalek,” indicating that these two figures were Amalekite proxies. They were doing Amalek’s dirty work, getting in Beneh Yisrael’s way as they were on the brink of fulfilling their spiritual mission.
Our next encounter with Amalek occurred after the establishment of the Israelite monarchy. Once King Shaul was crowned as Beneh Yisrael’s first king, the next step was to have been the building of the Bet Hamikdash, where Gd would reside. But like in the desert, Amalek set out to sabotage the process. King Shaul was called upon to eradicate Amalek, but he failed to do so, leaving the king, Aggag, alive.
This mistake led to Amalek’s next attempt to sabotage the process of perfecting the world. Seventy years after the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, the Persian Empire took control of the ancient world, and its benevolent emperor, Cyrus, allowed the Jews to return to Israel and rebuild the Bet Hamikdash. Once again, Amalek set out to foil the Jews’ redemption. Haman, a direct descendant of Aggag, rose to power and nearly annihilated the entire Jewish Nation.
Amalek’s goal is to stop Beneh Yisrael every time we are poised to bring the world’s final redemption. They consistently attack us “baderech,” when we are making our way to greatness, ready to fulfill our mission of perfecting the world.
This is why we are commanded to never forget Amalek’s assault, and why we are bidden to eradicate this evil nation. In order to fulfill our mission, we must be aware of the efforts that Amalek has made, and will always make, to stand in our way and prevent us from bringing the world to its state of perfection.
Amalek’s Two-Pronged Approach
Probing a bit deeper, it is significant that the initial battle against Amalek was led by two righteous men – Moshe Rabbenu, and his disciple, Yehoshua.
As mentioned, Yehoshua led the armed forces on the ground. Moshe, meanwhile, sat on a hill overlooking the battlefield, and when he lifted his hands, Beneh Yisrael succeeded in defeating Amalek. The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 3:8) explains that when Moshe raised his hands, Beneh Yisrael’s eyes and hearts were drawn heavenward, to Gd, thus reinforcing their faith, in the merit of which they were victorious. The Torah thus says about Moshe’s hands during this battle, “Vayehi yadav emunah” (Shemot 17:12) – literally, “His hands were faith.” Moshe led this war by strengthening the people’s emunah, their faith in Gd. Amalek set out to extinguish the raging fire of emunah which was kindled by the unprecedented miracles of the Exodus and the splitting of the sea. In response, Moshe arose to reinforce Am Yisrael’s faith.
Yehoshua was a descendant of Yosef, who, as a 17-year-old boy, was cruelly banished from his home and brought to a foreign country, where his morality was tested. Working as a slave, Yosef was tempted by his master’s wife, and heroically resisted her advances, preserving his morality and purity. His heir, Yehoshua, was chosen to wage the battle against Amalek because Amalek’s spiritual offensive against our nation entails not only a war on faith, but also a war against our moral code. Amalek seeks to undermine our kedushah, our sanctity, exposing us to things we should not see, and enticing us to inappropriate conduct.
This is why Balak and Bilam conspired to lure Beneh Yisrael specifically to the sins of pagan worship and illicit relationships. As emissaries of Amalek, their plan to spiritually annihilate Am Yisrael focused on these two particular areas – our belief in Hashem, and our moral lifestyle. This is Amalek’s strategy – to undermine our people’s faith, and to lead us to immoral conduct.
The Modern-Day Amalekite Onslaught
In our generation, Amalek has launched yet another assault – one which is far subtler than its earlier attacks, but no less dangerous. This assault is taking place now because we are approaching the time of our final redemption. As Mashiah’s arrival draws near, Amalek again rears its ugly hand, doing everything it can to derail this process, to make us unworthy of our geulah (redemption) and incapable of fulfilling our mission to perfect the world.
This is why our generation faces unprecedented challenges in these two areas – emunah and morality. Our society ridicules the belief in Gd who governs the world and imposes upon us certain obligations and restrictions with which we are obliged to comply. Modern man finds such a notion archaic, primitive, and naïve. And, we live in a society that champions a lack of restraint, that glorifies promiscuity and exposure – in direct contrast to the Torah’s ethic of modesty and of the sanctity of marriage. These societal influences are spiritually harmful in their own right, but they are made especially pernicious by modern technology, which exposes us to society’s values on an ongoing basis. Never before have Torah-committed Jews been so vulnerable to the threatening spiritual forces of Amalek. In the palm of our hand, we have unlimited access to atheistic, heretical ideas, and to the lowest depths of immorality. The closer we get to our final redemption, to the ultimate rectification of the world, the greater force Amalek exerts in its relentless efforts to disrupt this process – hence the unparalleled spiritual challenges that virtually every observant Jew confronts in today’s day and age.
We must realize that each and every one of us is a soldier, a warrior taking part in this battle against Amalek. Our courageous, beloved IDF soldiers are fighting the war against our vicious enemies who threaten our physical existence, who seek the destruction of the Jewish State and the Jewish Nation. We, who live outside Israel and are not fighting against Palestinian terrorism, are nevertheless warriors, full participants in Am Yisrael’s struggle for spiritual survival. And as we wage this war, we must celebrate every small victory. Every time we reinforce our emunah, turning to Hashem in prayer, or sacrificing for the sake of a mitzvah, we score an important victory against Amalek. Every time we avoid looking at something inappropriate, or we walk away from somewhere we aren’t supposed to be, we win a battle.
Let us not be discouraged by today’s spiritual challenges, or allow ourselves to fall into despair. Let us instead remember what these challenges mean – that we are in the process of bringing the geulah, that Mashiah is around the corner, thus prompting Amalek to “work overtime” in luring us to sin. And let us draw encouragement from our significant victories, from all the times when we did not allow Amalek to defeat us, from all the mitzvot that we observed even when it was difficult, even when we were tempted to neglect them. Like soldiers on the battlefield, we must stand strong, with confidence and resolve, determined to win this difficult war that our generation has been chosen to wage so that we can usher in the final redemption, may it unfold speedily and in our times, amen.