Moses, Aaron and Hur during the Battle of Rephidim against the Amalekites.
Moses, Aaron and Hur during the Battle of Rephidim against the Amalekites.

In a world filled with Amalek thinking, do a mitzvah and blot it out

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The Torah column is supported by a generous donation from Eve Gordon-Ramek in memory of Kenneth Gordon.


Tetzaveh

Exodus 27:20-30:10


The Rabbi of Chelm easily remembered that it was Shabbat Zakhor, the Shabbat preceding Purim. He also remembered the week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, and the special readings from the Torah, Deuteronomy 25:17-19, and haftarah, Samuel 15:2-34. But why, he wondered, am I standing in the kitchen holding a glass?

He looked at the recently purchased flowers on the table. Ah, roses! (No fool he.)

“Rose,” he called out to his wife, “why am I in the kitchen?” 

“You’re getting juice.” 

Right, he thought, I am becoming a bit forgetful, but I must remember not to be an Amelek!

He could not forget Amalek, that’s for sure. The special Torah reading for Shabbat Zachor admonishes:

“Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt — how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.  Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

And what’s more, from this week’s haftarah reading:

“Thus said the LORD of Hosts: ‘I am exacting the penalty for what Amalek did to Israel, for the assault he made upon them on the road, on their way up from Egypt. Now go, attack Amalek, and proscribe all that belongs to him. Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses!’ Saul mustered the troops and enrolled them at Telaim: 200,000 men on foot, and 10,000 men of Judah. Then Saul advanced as far as the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the wadi.”

Carrying the juice, the Rabbi of Chelm reflected on the progress of Jewish thought from the Biblical command to remember to blot out King Amalek and all his people to a deeper idea, confronting Amalek thinking within and without.

Pouring the juice, he remembered how the Talmud and its interpreters observed that, because of the rise and fall of empires, it was no longer possible to identify anyone in their day with the Canaanites, Moabites, Ammonites and Amalekites:

“But Sennacherib, King of Assyria, had come up already and confused all the lands as it is said: ‘I have removed the bounds of the peoples …’”  (Isaiah 10:13)

The tradition that Haman is a descendant of Amalek is why we read about Amalek before Purim.  However, the Talmud, Sanhedrin 96b, reads:

“The descendants of Haman studied Torah in Bnei Brak and they included Rabbi Samuel ben Shilath!” 

And in Berakhot 10a:

“Beruriah states that it is only the sins of Amalek that must be removed, not Amalekites themselves.”

Beruriah remains one of the great Talmudic teachers.

In his  “Laws Concerning the Sabbath 2.3,” Maimonides taught that the lowest expression of human behavior is vengeance, the highest expression is ethics, as he writes:

“There is no vengeance in the commandments of the Torah, but compassion, mercy and peace in the world.”

He remains one of the great medieval philosophers.

Sitting at the kitchen table sipping his juice, the Rabbi of Chelm reflected on Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (pe-shis-kha), who lived in the Napoleonic period. Rabbi Bunim knew Enlightenment philosophy and practiced traditional Jewish life. He taught the importance of the individual’s personal relationship with God and believed that authenticity and honesty with oneself were the foundation of true piety. He remains one of the great Hasidic teachers.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim taught that the mitzvah today is to blot out Amalek, not the Amalekites.  There are no Amalekites in the world, but the world is filled with Amalek behavior. That is what matters now: to blot our own Amalek thinking: attacking the refugee, persecuting minorities, afflicting the powerless.

The Rabbi of Chelm became aware of a voice from the other room, that of his wife, Rose. She was asking, “Where is my juice?”

“Be right there.” He had forgotten. Good to be reminded.

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan
Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan lives and works in Berkeley, California. He can be reached at [email protected].