How We Erase the Memory of Amalek
Parsha Ki Tetze - Debarim/Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19
Parsha Ki Tetze is chock full of mitzvot (commandments). Most of them, as explained in a previous post, deal with our relationship with one another. They are mitzvot bein adam l’chaveiro, commandments between a man and his fellow. When we follow them, we live kinder and more compassionate lives.
However, the very last mitzvah seems to contradict the Parsha's overall focus on kindness toward one another. It’s the mitzvah to blot out the remembrance of Amalek.
Debarim/Deuteronomy 25:17-19 “Remember what Amalĕq did to you on the way as you were coming out of Mitsrayim,
(18) how he met you on the way and attacked your back, all the feeble ones in your rear, when you were tired and weary. And he did not fear Elohim.
(19) “Therefore it shall be, when יהוה your Elohim has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which יהוה your Elohim is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you blot out the remembrance of Amalĕq from under the heavens. Do not forget!"
Why does this Torah portion which is so focused on getting us to be kind to one another suddenly take a sharp turn and conclude with such cruelty? Are we really being told to decimate an entire people?
Actually, there is no change at all. As we’ll see, the mitzvah to destroy Amalek is, in fact, a mitzvah of kindness. Let’s see how…
Who is Amalek?
Abraham begot Yitshaq (Isaac), and Yitshaq begot twins Esau and Ya'aqob (Jacob). When Ya’aqob stole his father's blessing from Esau, Esau boiled over in hatred for his brother and sought to kill him. Ya'aqob fled for his life.
Twenty years later, they had a peaceful reunion; however, the hatred never left Esau. Tradition holds that because he was unable to kill Ya’aqob, Esau passed the task down to his children. Esau's son Eliphaz didn't kill Ya'aqob when given the chance, but Eliphaz's son, Amalek, made it his mission to fulfill his grandfather's desire. He vowed to destroy Ya’aqob from the face of the earth.
Thus, began Amalek’s hatred for Yisrael (Ya’aqob and his descendants). The hate sprang forth from the seed of brotherly hatred that Esau had for Ya’aqob.
War with Amalek
In Parsha Ki Tetze, Moshe reminds Yisrael of what Amalek did 40 years earlier on their journey out of Mitsrayim (recorded in Parsha Beshalach, Shem/Ex. 17:8-16). Here, he gives a few more details of how the attack actually happened. Amalek mounted a surprise attack from the rear, preying on the weak who straggled behind.
Deb/Deut. 25:17-19 “Remember what Amalĕq did to you on the way as you were coming out of Mitsrayim, (18) how he met you on the way and attacked your back, all the feeble ones in your rear, when you were tired and weary. And he did not fear Elohim."
In Parsha Beshalach, we saw the details of the battle that ensued. When Amalek attacked, Moshe came up with a battle plan. Yehoshua (Joshua) would lead the physical battle on the ground, and he would lead the spiritual battle from atop the hill.
Moshe raised his hands to Heaven, and as long as his hands were raised, Yehoshua and his army prevailed. When Moshe’s arms began to weary and his hands were let down, Amalek’s army prevailed.
Aharon (Aaron) and Hur sat Moshe down on a stone, and they supported his hands in the air - one on one side and one on the other side. Together, they kept Moshe’s hands lifted.
Thus, Yehoshua prevailed, and Yisrael defeated Amalek.
Brotherly Love Prevails
The unity and brotherly love atop the hill brought Yisrael the triumph over Amalek.
Aharon was Moshe’s brother. He was the high priest, and he was known for his love of people. The sages teach that we should all become disciples of Aharon - loving peace and loving one another (Pirkei Avot 1:12).
Who was Hur? Hur was Moshe’s nephew, the son of his sister Miriam.
Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam (via Hur) stood united on the hill. Three siblings supporting one another when one became weary.
This unity and brotherly love caused Yisrael to prevail. Their love for one another defeated Amalek.
There is further proof that brotherly love defeated Amalek. Yehoshua was from the tribe of Ephraim, son of Yoseph (Joseph). Yehoshua defeated Amalek.
Fast forward in time, and King Shaul (Saul) also defeated Amalek in battle. Shaul was from the tribe of Binyamin (Benjamin).
Fast forward again to the time of Esther. Haman the Agagite (a descendant of Amalek) planned to destroy all the Yahudim in Persia. Mordecai orchestrated the sequence of events that led to Haman’s demise and the Yahudim’s success in battle. Mordecai was also from the tribe of Binyamin.
Yoseph and Binyamin defeat Amalek.
Why? Because of their closeness and sincere love for one another. It's also because they were separate from the other ten brothers who sold Yoseph into slavery. Only the two who loved one another and did not turn on one another are capable of defeating Amalek.
Brotherly love defeats Amalek.
Uplifting the Weak
The mitzvah to destroy Amalek is, at its root, a mitzvah to preserve kindness. YAHUAH tells Yisrael to wipe out the “remembrance” of Amalek. He means to destroy all that Amalek stood for.
Amalek attacked the weak and the tired. He attacked the vulnerable who had no defenses. He mercilessly took advantage of them when they were down. This descendant of Esau saw his brother in his weakness and pounced to destroy.
Amalek is the antithesis of kindness and brotherly love.
YAHUAH commands us to eradicate this mindset from us completely. Let there be no remembrance of baseless brotherly hatred among Yisrael.
YAHUAH wants us to unite and embrace one another in love as Yoseph and Binyamin. He wants us to support each other as Aharon and Hur supported Moshe.
If our brother is weak, feeble, or tired in any way - physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, etc. - we are to support him. We’re to uplift him, strengthen him, and unite ourselves with him.
We're to look out for the poor, the young, the elderly, the sick, the downtrodden, the widow, the fatherless, the jobless, the unlearned, the new converts -- anyone who could use a little support. To them, we extend our hand.
We are not to do like Amalek. Do not attack the weak and the tired. Do not take advantage of our brother when he's down. Do not be merciless toward him.
Love him. Support him. Uplift him. Show achdut - unity through brotherly love.
This is how we defeat Amalek. This is how we eradicate every trace of his memory.
Remember: it is a battle. Amalek will give us reasons not to help our brother. He’ll give us plenty of good excuses. He’ll stir up strife and do whatever it takes to keep us from loving our brother.
We have to fight Amalek, not our brother. Fight the feelings and thoughts that come up and discourage us from loving and supporting our brother.
Fight for achdut.
Unite Yisrael, and defeat Amalek.