Shabbat Zachor ~ The Amalek within and the Amalek without

Today is Shabbat Vayikra and Shabbat Zachor.

Vayikra will deal with laws regarding the sacrificial system. Our triennial plugs us in the sliding scale for sacrifices - no one, the text affirms, is excluded from approaching the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, for lack of ability to contribute. I hope we keep this in our hearts as we continue throughout our year at CBI.

But today is Shabbat Zachor - the Shabbat before Purim. We read the maftir from a second sefer Torah so as not to bore the congregation with too much rolling of the parchment. So here are my questions for our maftir today:

What did Amalek do that is so terrible, according to the text?

Why does the Torah say "remember" and "do not forget?" How are those two instructions different from one another?

(יז) זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃ (יח) אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ כָּל־הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִ֣ים אַֽחַרֶ֔יךָ וְאַתָּ֖ה עָיֵ֣ף וְיָגֵ֑עַ וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱלֹקִֽים׃ (יט) וְהָיָ֡ה בְּהָנִ֣יחַ ה' אֱלֹקֶ֣יךָ ׀ לְ֠ךָ מִכָּל־אֹ֨יְבֶ֜יךָ מִסָּבִ֗יב בָּאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יְהוָֽה־אֱ֠לֹקֶיךָ נֹתֵ֨ן לְךָ֤ נַחֲלָה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח׃ (פ)

(17) Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt— (18) how he surprised you on the march, and cutting down all the stragglers in your rear, when you were famished and weary: he did not fear God. (19) Therefore, when Ad-nai your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that Ad-nai your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

(ח) וַיָּבֹ֖א עֲמָלֵ֑ק וַיִּלָּ֥חֶם עִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בִּרְפִידִֽם׃ (ט) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֤ה אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֙עַ֙ בְּחַר־לָ֣נוּ אֲנָשִׁ֔ים וְצֵ֖א הִלָּחֵ֣ם בַּעֲמָלֵ֑ק מָחָ֗ר אָנֹכִ֤י נִצָּב֙ עַל־רֹ֣אשׁ הַגִּבְעָ֔ה וּמַטֵּ֥ה הָאֱלֹקִ֖ים בְּיָדִֽי׃ (י) וַיַּ֣עַשׂ יְהוֹשֻׁ֗עַ כַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר אָֽמַר־לוֹ֙ מֹשֶׁ֔ה לְהִלָּחֵ֖ם בַּעֲמָלֵ֑ק וּמֹשֶׁה֙ אַהֲרֹ֣ן וְח֔וּר עָל֖וּ רֹ֥אשׁ הַגִּבְעָֽה׃ (יא) וְהָיָ֗ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר יָרִ֥ים מֹשֶׁ֛ה יָד֖וֹ וְגָבַ֣ר יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְכַאֲשֶׁ֥ר יָנִ֛יחַ יָד֖וֹ וְגָבַ֥ר עֲמָלֵֽק׃ (יב) וִידֵ֤י מֹשֶׁה֙ כְּבֵדִ֔ים וַיִּקְחוּ־אֶ֛בֶן וַיָּשִׂ֥ימוּ תַחְתָּ֖יו וַיֵּ֣שֶׁב עָלֶ֑יהָ וְאַהֲרֹ֨ן וְח֜וּר תָּֽמְכ֣וּ בְיָדָ֗יו מִזֶּ֤ה אֶחָד֙ וּמִזֶּ֣ה אֶחָ֔ד וַיְהִ֥י יָדָ֛יו אֱמוּנָ֖ה עַד־בֹּ֥א הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ׃ (יג) וַיַּחֲלֹ֧שׁ יְהוֹשֻׁ֛עַ אֶת־עֲמָלֵ֥ק וְאֶת־עַמּ֖וֹ לְפִי־חָֽרֶב׃ (פ) (יד) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ה' אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה כְּתֹ֨ב זֹ֤את זִכָּרוֹן֙ בַּסֵּ֔פֶר וְשִׂ֖ים בְּאָזְנֵ֣י יְהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ כִּֽי־מָחֹ֤ה אֶמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃ (טו) וַיִּ֥בֶן מֹשֶׁ֖ה מִזְבֵּ֑חַ וַיִּקְרָ֥א שְׁמ֖וֹ ה' ׀ נִסִּֽי׃ (טז) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר כִּֽי־יָד֙ עַל־כֵּ֣ס יָ֔ הּ מִלְחָמָ֥ה לַה' בַּֽעֲמָלֵ֑ק מִדֹּ֖ר דֹּֽר׃ (פ)

(8) Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. (9) Moses said to Joshua, “Pick some men for us, and go out and do battle with Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill, with the rod of God in my hand.” (10) Joshua did as Moses told him and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. (11) Then, whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; but whenever he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. (12) But Moses’ hands grew heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur, one on each side, supported his hands; thus his hands remained steady until the sun set. (13) And Joshua overwhelmed the people of Amalek with the sword. (14) Then Ad-nai said to Moses, “Inscribe this in a document as a reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven!” (15) And Moses built an altar and named it Ad-nai-nissi. (16) He said, “It means, ‘Hand upon the throne of Y-ah!’ Ad-nai will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages.”

(א) וַיְהִ֞י בְּבֹ֨א דָוִ֧ד וַאֲנָשָׁ֛יו צִֽקְלַ֖ג בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֑י וַעֲמָלֵקִ֣י פָֽשְׁט֗וּ אֶל־נֶ֙גֶב֙ וְאֶל־צִ֣קְלַ֔ג וַיַּכּוּ֙ אֶת־צִ֣קְלַ֔ג וַיִּשְׂרְפ֥וּ אֹתָ֖הּ בָּאֵֽשׁ׃ (ב) וַיִּשְׁבּ֨וּ אֶת־הַנָּשִׁ֤ים אֲשֶׁר־בָּהּ֙ מִקָּטֹ֣ן וְעַד־גָּד֔וֹל לֹ֥א הֵמִ֖יתוּ אִ֑ישׁ וַיִּֽנְהֲג֔וּ וַיֵּלְכ֖וּ לְדַרְכָּֽם׃ (ג) וַיָּבֹ֨א דָוִ֤ד וַֽאֲנָשָׁיו֙ אֶל־הָעִ֔יר וְהִנֵּ֥ה שְׂרוּפָ֖ה בָּאֵ֑שׁ וּנְשֵׁיהֶ֛ם וּבְנֵיהֶ֥ם וּבְנֹתֵיהֶ֖ם נִשְׁבּֽוּ׃ (ד) וַיִּשָּׂ֨א דָוִ֜ד וְהָעָ֧ם אֲשֶׁר־אִתּ֛וֹ אֶת־קוֹלָ֖ם וַיִּבְכּ֑וּ עַ֣ד אֲשֶׁ֧ר אֵין־בָּהֶ֛ם כֹּ֖חַ לִבְכּֽוֹת׃
(1) By the time David and his men arrived in Ziklag, on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid into the Negeb and against Ziklag; they had stormed Ziklag and burned it down. (2) They had taken the women in it captive, low-born and high-born alike; they did not kill any, but carried them off and went their way. (3) When David and his men came to the town and found it burned down, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive, (4) David and the troops with him broke into tears, until they had no strength left for weeping.

Amalek's worldview and culture is to find the easiest way to acquire booty. They searched for vacuums of power and law enforcement which would enable them to help themselves to the possessions of others. In such a situation, the more ruthless one is, the more successful he is as well, because the greatest limit on the activity of such people is their own conscience. This is how we can understand the "fearing God" - the knowledge that God, here, Elokim, is not just a fear of the Almighty - it does not necessarily mean monotheism. All the other instances of a Jew seeing people "not fearing God" have the name Elokim used, a more general name, applied to the Egyptians (as Yosef is disguised as one) and Avimelech (by Avraham).

So fearing God can simply mean an attitude towards others.

זכור את אשר כו' ואתה עיף ויגע ולא ירא אלקים (דברים כה, יז-יח). נראה, דהנה לא זו בלבד דזרע ישראל הם מצווים על מחיית עמלק דהוא זרע עשו אלא דכל איש מישראל צריך למחות חלק רע המכונה בשם עמלק אשר טמון בלבו דכל זמן דזרע עמלק נמצא בעולם אז כיון דאדם גם כן הוא עולם קטן אז יש מציאות לעמלק לכח הרע בכל אדם אשר מתעורר בכל פעם להחטיא את האדם ועל זה בא הזכירות בתורה. והנה כח של זרע ישראל אינו אלא בפה הקול קול יעקב, בתורה ותפלה כשאדם יש לו כח זה ובוער תמיד לבו להשם יתברך אז אין שום רע יוכל לשלוט בו. אך כשאדם יניח כח זה אז מיד ויסעו מרפידים, שרפו ידיהם. מיד ויבא עמלק, מיד שורה הרע עמו. אך כשאדם תופס על כל פנים מדת היראה להיות ירא מפניו יתברך מלעבור על מצותיו על כל פנים אינו בא לידי חטא. וזהו שכתוב ואתה עיף ויגע, שאין בך כח זרע ישראל שרפו ידיהם מעבודת השם. ולא ירא אלקים. ועל ידי זה תזכור מאד שלא יכשילך כח עמלק. וזהו שכתוב מחה תמחה מלבבך שורש הרע ולכפות אותו תחת הטוב. וזהו שכתוב (שמות יז, יא) והיה כאשר ירים משה את ידו, רצה לומר כוחו המכונה בשם יד כשאדם מרים זה הכח אז וגבר ישראל. אבל כאשר יניח מזה הכח אז חס ושלום וגבר כו':

Remember what etc you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear: he did not fear God. (Deut. 25:17-18) It seems, that it is not only for this that the seed of Israel is being commanded regarding the erasing of Amalek, which is from the seed of Esav. Rather, every person in Israel needs to erase the evil part that is concealed in one's heart, that is known by the name Amalek. This is because whenever the seed of Amalek is found in the world it is found in the human being, since the human is a small world, and therefore there is a reality to "Amalek", to the force of evil inside every human being, which arises every time to make a human being sin, and is regarding this that the remembrance comes in the Torah. And behold, the strength of the seed of Israel is only found in the mouth, since "the voice, is the voice of Yaakov", [found] in the Torah [study] and in prayer, when a person has this force always burning within towards the Holy One of Blessing, then no evil can control him. But, when a person allows this force to rest then immediately [s/he is under the verse] "and they left Refidim" meaning "their hands became weak [rafah]" and instantly "and Amalek came", instantly evil takes over. But when a person seizes in any instance the character trait of "awe", meaning, one is in awe of the Holy One of Blessing and will not transgress God's commandments, in any instance he won't come to sin. And this is why "you were famished and weary" is written, that you did not have inside you the force of the seed of Israel, that their hands were weakened and did not serve God. "And did not fear God" - and from this you need to remember strongly, so that the force of Amalek will not make you stumble. And this is why it is written "And it was, when Moses raised his hand" (Exodus 17:11) this means the force that is known by the name "hand" - when a person raises that force, then "and Israel prevailed." But when he allowed that force to rest, then - God forbid - "and [the other side] prevailed, etc.

Rabbi Francis Nataf

When the Torah tells us that the nation of Amalek did not fear God, it is saying that they were unrestrained by any concept of a higher power and thus possessed an unusual lack of common decency. They were the most extreme manifestation of this attitude. Their pirate-like behavior reflects a lack of respect for man’s uniqueness and ultimately for the power that stands behind it. No wonder, then, that the Jews are commanded to blot out Amalek. They represent an antithesis to the Jewish nation’s mission in the world, and their approach to life presents a formidable obstacle to the Jewish people’s goal of establishing a kingdom of God on earth.

The fight against Amalek does not end when the nation is destroyed, for even when it would be defeated its legacy would likely remain. As long as greed exists in the human heart, there will always be a need to fight against the temptation to view others as mere objects standing in the way of one’s advancement. The eternal struggle against Amalek is how Judaism formalizes this need.

[Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Deuteronomy: Explorations in Text and Meaning, Urim publications, 2016 - Chapter 6]

This nightmare in New Zealand feels unthinkable. Except it isn't. The hate that killed Muslims praying in Christchurch is the same hate that killed Jews praying in Pittsburgh is the same hate that killed African Americans praying in Charleston and is the same hate that killed Sikhs praying in Wisconsin. If we don't face white supremacy it will destroy all of us. That is Amalek today. And it is the same impulse to say "better them than us" or to be indifferent to other communities' suffering. It is that same force, in a slightly weaker mode.

Please, God, let us all go to war against that Amalek, outside and inside, so our world will actually become a better place.