Ki Tetze- Annihilating Amalek

As we enter פרשת כי תצא, the topic of Moshe’s speech switches to the rules of war and captivity and eventually civil law. Then, the parsha concludes:

זָכוֹר, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק, בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם. אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ, וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל-הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ–וְאַתָּה, עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ; וְלֹא יָרֵא, אֱלֹהִים.  וְהָיָה בְּהָנִיחַ ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ לְךָ מִכָּל-אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב, בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה’ -אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ–תִּמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם; לֹא, תִּשְׁכָּח.

Remember that which Amalek did to you on the way as you left Egypt. As they met you on the way and they attacked you from the back as you were faint and weary and they were not G-d fearing. And it will be, when G-d has put you in the land that is your inheritance and has removed the surrounding enemies, you shall blot out any remembrance of Amalek from the earth, you shall not forget. (דברים כה:יז-יט)

We are told of the importance of remembering the atrocities that the Amalekites did to our ancestors as they left Egypt- they attacked us from behind as we were dragging, and as a result, we can never rest until their name has been destroyed for all eternity. These three pesukim, which constitute Parshat Zachor, are read every year on the shabbbat before Purim in fulfillment of the commandment of זכירת עמלק. However, the actual attack from Amalek took place much earlier in the Torah, in the reading of “ויבא עמלק” which we read on פורים, leaving us to wonder; why is there a specific commandment to read about remembering עמלק instead of reading the actual story of עמלק?

To find the answer, a look in the רמב”ם ספר המצוות clarifies exactly what we are commanded to do about עמלק. In his introduction to the משנה תורה, Rambam compiled a list of what he believed to be the 613 commandments that we, as Jews, are obligated to keep. While some מצות only apply to certain types of Jews (men, kohanim, bechorim), amongst the positive commandments that apply to all Jews, we see two that are very relevant to our question:

קפח  להכרית זרעו של עמלק, שנאמר “תמחה את זכר עמלק” (דברים כה,יט)

קפט  לזכור מה שעשה עמלק תמיד, שנאמר “זכור, את אשר עשה לך עמלק” (דברים כה,יז).

[Mitzva] #188: To destroy the seed of Amalek, as it says “Erase the remembrance of Amalek”

189: To continually remember what Amalek did to us, as it says “Remember that which Amalek did to you”. (רמב”ם ספר המצוות)

So, we see that we are commanded with two distinct obligations against Amalek- to destroy them forever, and to never forget them. It is possible that the two parshiot of Amalek represent the two mitzvot involving them, and they serve as a reminder that even after we destroy Amalek and prevent any further “ויבא עמלק”, we are not quite off of the hook for “זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק”- that commandment is forever, even after Amalek is long gone, as our parsha concludes “לא תשכח.”

The Jewish People’s journey from Egypt to Israel was one fraught with dangers, enemies from both without and within, and all in all was very eventful. There are many lessons that we can learn from this period of our history, but yet, there are but few incidents, particularly this one story that we are actually commanded in the Torah to remember. What could possibly be the significance of the Amalek nation that causes the need for us to constantly remember our shared history even after they are long gone?

To answer this question, we need to first take a step back and discuss who Amalek was and who they are now. The Amaleki nation originated from עמלק, the grandson of עשו, our forefather יעקב’s twin brother and mortal enemy. Amalek fathered a nation, one which emulated עשו’s values of violence and instability, and this disposition caused them to pick a fight with עם ישראל on that fateful day in רפידים. Even after the Jews’ victory over Amalek in the desert, the nation continued to grow, making occasional appearances in ספר יהושע and שופטים.

Rambam, at the beginning of ספר מלכים, discusses the order of priorities as the Jewish People settle the land. Their first priority, as we saw last week, is creating a stable leadership by picking a king. After that, their next priority is to fulfill the מצוה of מחית עמלק. Only after that can they fulfill the third מצוה of בנין בית הבחירה. In the times of שמואל הנביא, the Jewish People picked their first king, שאול המלך. Their next action was to wage war on עמלק, which would’ve been successful had שאול המלך not made the mistake of sparing the Amaleki animals and the king of Amalek, which let the nation continue, albeit reduced significantly. However, this was short-lived as in the next generation, דוד המלך made war on the accursed nation and ultimately destroyed them, earning his kin the right to build a בית המקדש as it says in Shmuel Bet:

“וַיְהִי, כִּי-יָשַׁב הַמֶּלֶךְ בְּבֵיתוֹ; וה’ הֵנִיחַ-לוֹ מִסָּבִיב, מִכָּל-אֹיְבָיו. וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ, אֶל-נָתָן הַנָּבִיא, רְאֵה נָא, אָנֹכִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּבֵית אֲרָזִים; וַאֲרוֹן, הָאֱלֹקים, יֹשֵׁב, בְּתוֹךְ הַיְרִיעָה.”

And it was as the king (David) sat in his house and G-d had vanquished his enemies (including Amalek), that he said to Natan the prophet; Behold, I am sitting a nice house and G-d’s ark is in a tent. (שמואל ב’ ז:א-ב)

Despite the fact that Amalek had been wiped out, and all three of the commandments upon entering the land had been fulfilled, we never see that the commandment of completely annihilating Amalek has been fulfilled. Most מפרשים believe that this is because by that point עמלק had changed from a physical nation to a philosophical idea, and, as a result, any nation that has adopted the Amaleki philosophy, that which had originated from עשו, also has the status of עמלק, an idea which became much more concrete after סנחירב מלך עשור ‘mixed up’ the nations so that we do not know who most of the modern nations are originally descended from. In this way, despite the fact that עם עמלק is seemingly gone, the עמלק that we are commanded to destroy, the one that we can never forget even after they are long gone, is still very alive. It lives in the nations that, like המן העמלקי, tried to annihilate us, and like its forebear עשו, used tricky and merciless methods to accomplish this. Amalek was Nazi Germany, Amalek was Spain in the time of the Inquisition, Amalek is any nation, any culture that tries to systematically annihilate the Jews, and with G-d’s help, we have managed to rebuff their attempts, but never did we actually manage to destroy this Amalek mentality. Until now. For the first time in 2000 years, we, as a nation, have once again reached “והיה בהניח ה’ אלקיך לך… בארץ אשר ה’ אלקיך נתן לך”- we have earned and fought our way back to Eretz Yisrael and it is once again under legitimate Jewish leadership. Unfortunately, the latest עמלק is a little too close for comfort. Many contemporary rabbinic figures have adopted the position of Rav Yisrael Hess of Ramat Gan, Israel, who wrote in the 1970’s that “Amalek” is now the Palestinians. This position makes a lot of sense, as every part of the so-called Palestinian culture, is aimed at delegitimizing and destroying the Jewish People in the cold and calculated way that is typical of an Amaleki nation. While we are not yet able to destroy them, there is one thing that we must keep in mind as we fight a perpetual military and political war against the Palestinian Arabs- “זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק- Do not forget what Amalek did to you.” We cannot forget the atrocities that our neighborly cousins have done to us since Jews started repopulating Israel over 100 years ago. Between the pre-מדינה Hebron riots, and the eight wars and two intifadas that they have caused since 1948, the Palestinian people have a lot of blood on their hands. However, despite this, the Israeli government has been in serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians since the 1980’s, trying to make peace with terrorists who have no interest in making it happen. While this is admirable, it has caused the nations of the world to have a skewed perspective on the conflict and has led them to back the Palestinian Authority on their ridiculous demands to even get Israel to the negotiation table (1967 borders, prisoner releases). While most of the  world prepares to stand behind the back of these monsters the moment that the peace inevitably stops and conflict begins, I would like to call on the denizens of the Jewish state to heed the warning of פרשת זכור, and never forget what the Palestinians have done to us- as long as we keep this in mind, and as long as we never forget the past as the rest of the world seems only too willing to do, then we can succeed in continuing to live safely and securely in Eretz Yisrael until we are fortunate to merit a time where we can see a fulfillment of the end of our parsha, of “תמחה את זכר העמלק מתחת השמים” permanently, and after that, we will see a fulfillment of the third and final מצוה בכניסה לארץ, the building of G-d’s permanent בית הבחירה, very speedily in our days.