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Parshat Beshalach - 5767

"And Amalek came and fought with Israel in Refidim" (xvii, 8). The nations were all scared of Israel – "The nations heard and shook, fear took hold of the dwellers of Pileshet. Then the chiefs of Edom were frightened, trembling took hold of the leaders of Moab, all the dwellers of Canaan melted" (xv, 14-15). The only nation to fight Israel was Amalek. Moshe commands Yehoshua: "…choose for us men and go fight Amalek…And it was when Moshe raised his hands and Israel gained the advantage and when he rested his hands Amalek gained the advantage." Afterwards Hakadosh Baruch Hu commands Moshe: "…write this as a memory in a book, and place it in the ears of Yehoshua, for I will surely blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens." Hakadosh Baruch Hu declares that He Himslef will blot out the memory of Amalek. In Parshat Ki Tezte it is us who are commanded: "Wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens; do not forget." The Divine wish to wipe out Amalek is identical to the command that we are given.


This command to wipe out Amalek raises moral questions for many people. Why must we wipe out all the Amalekites even many generations after the war they waged with Israel upon their exodus from Egypt? King Shaul raised a similar question. The prophet Shmuel commands Shaul: "So says Hashem of Hosts: I remember what Amalek did to Israel, how they prepared for them on the way when they came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and destroy all that he has; do not have pity on him but kill from man until woman, from infant to suckling, from camel to ass" (Shumel I, xv, 2-3). Yet Shaul does not fulfill the command in a complete manner. "And Shaul and the people had pity on Agag and on the best of the sheep and of the oxen, and those second-born and the lambs and all that was good, and they did not wish to destroy them…" (9). Chazal explain that Shaul raised questions against Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Its states in pasuk 5: "And Shaul came to the city of Amalek, ad lay in wait [vayirev – also: and he struggled] in the valley." The Radak comments: "Our Rabbis, of Blessed memory, explained – over the matter of the valley. He said – if for one soul the Torah said a calf must be beheaded, how much more so for all these souls?! A heavenly voice came out and said to him: Shaul! Do not be over-righteous, more than your Creator!" From the parsha of Eglah Arufah [the calf beheaded when a murdered corpse is discovered, its murderer unknown] Shaul correctly ascertained the Torah's emphasis on human life. As a result he was troubled over how Hakadosh Baruch Hu could command the wiping out of an entire nation, from infant to suckling, and all its animals. Simple, natural morality also cries out against this command, and natural morality is not to be disregarded. Rav Kook writes: "A person must adapt himself to simple, natural morality, in all its breadth and depth. Fear of Heaven must not push away man's natural morality, for then it will not be pure fear of Heaven. A sign of pure fear of Heaven is when natural morality, planted within man's natural honesty, increases and rises to greater heights than it attained without it" (Orot Hakodesh, III, Introduction, p. 27). Natural morality must be available to all, while fear of Heaven should improve on natural morality and raise it to a state of greater wholeness. Yet although natural morality is important, it must not be mistaken for Divine morality. Human morality is only partial, and unable to encompass the entire picture. Hence it is unable to provide overall, absolute answers, suitable for all situations in life. Only with the aid of a lofty, Divine viewpoint are we able to march along the precise route that takes into account all aspects of reality, external and internal alike. "Secular morality lacks depth; it does not enter the inner soul and is unable to cope with the waves of various lusts that forcefully arise" (Orot Hakodesh, III, p. 2). In the context of everyday life secular morality can work well, but when the tests get harder, it is insufficient. This is because it does not include all of our life forces; it fails to enter the inner aspects of the soul. "This weak morality is even less capable of providing guidelines for the general public, the human community in its depths and breadths of greatness, to penetrate the depths of the soul, and to change the heart of stone of the public and private person into one of flesh." General guidelines must come from the Divine and general aspects of life. Secular morality stems from the human, and hence partial, outlook, and thus is incapable of raising the private and public person to a full life. This is the meaning of the Divine retort to Shaul: "Do not be over-righteous, more than your Creator!" Your viewpoint is a partial one, and your questions results from human logic, whereas a king of Israel must lead the nation according to Divine morality. In the command that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gives to Shaul it states: "what Amalek did to Israel, how they prepared for them on the way when they came up from Egypt." This is not an unexplained command to strike Amalek, but rather a recollection of the source of evil of Amalek and their absolute opposition to Israel, which finds expression in the war when we left Egypt and were thirsty and weary. The prophet adds: "do not have pity on him," stressing that our first reaction upon hearing of the command to wipe out Amalek might indeed be one of pity. Yet we must perceive the truth of the Divine viewpoint, and restrain from pitying Amalek.

The Divine viewpoint is revealed to us in both the Torah and the prophets. It states in our Parsha: "…for the Hand is on the throne [kes] of G-d [kah], a war of Hashem with Amalek from generation to generation." Rashi explains: "Hakadosh Baruch Hu's Hand is lifted up to swear by His throne that He will have everlasting war and enmity with Amalek. Why does it state kes rather than kese [the full form]? And why does only half the Name also appear? Hakadosh Baruch Hu swears that neither His Name nor His throne will be complete until Amalek's name is wiped out, and when his name will be wiped out then the Name will be complete and the throne will be complete." If Israel reveals the Name of Hashem in the world, then the throne of Hashem (His kingship) will be complete in the world. Amalek is the diametric opposite of Israel. Rav Kook writes (Ma'amarei HaRa'ayah, II, p. 504): "Prophecy, which looks with the Divine Spirit to the souls of nations and people, has testified regarding the race of Amalek that its opposition to the light of Israel is an integral one, whose only balm is to destroy its memory, in order to straighten the path of the Israelite descendants by removing this greatest stumbling block." Since Amalek is the diametric opposite of Israel, the only solution is to wipe it out. This is in order that Israel will be able to fulfill its Divine mission. "This very prophecy [which taught us that Amalek's memory must be wiped out] foresees the ways of man that lead to the happiness of peace and the clearer gentleness of love." The essence of prophecy lies in its foreseeing of happiness and love. Hence, when prophecy states that Amalek must be wiped out, it is not out of petty hatred, but rather through a clear, profound vision that teaches us the essence of the wickedness of Amalek. The Rav explains the difference between Amalek and all other nations: "We differ from all the nations in the values we ascribe to. Their purpose is to improve the external aspects of the world, ours the internal ones." The difference between Israel and the nations is that we improve the spiritual, internal content of the world, whereas the nations correct its external aspects. "Amalek, however, is the diametric opposite of the entire holy purpose of Israel; it must be wiped out in order that Hashem and His throne can be whole" (Collection VI, 252). Amalek's purpose is opposite to that of Israel. This is the difference between Amalek and the other nations, and the reason why it is a mitzvah to wipe it out.

Amalek fought Israel after the miracles and wonders that occurred during the exodus from Egypt and after the splitting of the Red Sea. This is no coincidence – it shows us the essence of Amalek and its opposition to Israel. "Amalek clings to nature mainly due to its love of evil, which is mixed in with the dregs of nature." Natural reality contains a mixture of evil parts – the dregs of nature, which is what Amalek holds on to. Hence Amalek "cannot abide miracles in the world," for a miracle allows the light of Hashem to shine in the world. "Conversely, Hashem created Israel in order to breach the wall of nature, and the presence of miracles forms windows in nature so that the Divine light should not be blocked" (ibid, 251). Nature has walls which prevent us from seeing what is going on inside it. These walls must be breached by the making of windows which will allow us a glimpse of the inner workings of nature and the Divine light they contain. Only in this manner will the purpose of Divine creation be revealed. Only in this manner will the Divine unity in the world be made clear. This is the mission of the Israelite nation, to which Amalek's purpose is opposed. Therefore, when miracles were performed fro Israel, the Amalekites came and fought us. They reflect upon the external framework of nature and life and claim that these lack any Divine foundation, and all is random. They deny the Divine content of the world and prevent the throne of Hashem from being complete in the world, and hence they must be destroyed.

As a nation, Am Yisrael acts according to their belief in Hashem and serves to make evident the kingship of Hashem in the world. Amalek is the opposite of this. Thus we learn in Gemara Berachot (58a): " 'To You, Hashem, is the kingship' – this is the war with Amalek, as it states, 'for the Hand is on the throne of G-d.'" Rashi explains: "Through Hashem's war with Amalek, His throne will be exalted." The Rav writes (Ein Ayah, ibid): "Amalek stands as the oppressor of Israel; it looked disparagingly on Israel's exodus as a new idea in the world, as a nation acting in its kingship according to the glory of Hashem. And this is a necessity, that there be a nation in the world whose strength of kingship lies in the Name of Hashem, and His faith, trust, love and fear. Since Amalek opposes this, it is a doomed flock."

If Amalek is the opposite of Israel, why were they created? We can understand through the Rav's comments on the Rosh Hashanah prayers. We pray: "and you will destroy all wickedness entirely like smoke." The Rav explains (Olat Re'iyah II, p. 314): "Complete, utter evil, without any spark of goodness, delights in its destruction [evil itself rejoices when it is destroyed]. Its loss and negation provide a more complete level of development. We must raise ourselves to such an expansive level of kindness that we desire to do good to all, even to do good to evil by destroying it." Complete evil must be destroyed from the world, and it itself desires this. For even complete evil possess a hidden, obscure Divine point, which certainly does not want evil to find practical expression. Hence evil itself rejoices in its own destruction. When we reflect via this internal, Divine viewpoint we realize that we must perform kindness with evil by destroying it. This is a very lofty and subtle level of kindness, for the action itself appears to be the opposite of kindness. Clearly this kindness can be dangerous, as people can act under the guise of kindness. Only the absolute Divine viewpoint can provide precise instructions on when to make use of this aspect of kindness and destroy evil completely. Israel must achieve this subtle level of kindness, and this is why we are commanded to fight Amalek.

The Rav's comments elsewhere reveal an additional facet of the Amalek issue. The Rav explains why Moshe did not fight Amalek himself, but sent Yehoshua instead. Likewise we must explain why "Moshe's hands were heavy and they took a stone and placed it under him and he sat on it," and why "Aharon and Chur supported his hands." The Rav writes (Ein Ayah, Berachot, 2, 9, 10): "Moshe Rabbeinu, of blessed memory, could not wage war with Amalek himself. Amalek is the antagonist of Israel and their adversary. The eye that foresees all generations, like that of the master of prophets [Moshe], sees that even Amalek has a purpose, for as long as Israel is not completely purified there is need of a force to oppose them. Hence, 'the hands of Moshe were heavy,' and under his own power he had to lower and rest his hands."

Amalek's opposition to Israel forces us to overcome it and purify ourselves. Were there no need of a struggle the nation might get comfortable with mundane daily existence. The struggle with Amalek forces us to bring out the potential of our Divine strengths. The Amalek nation was thus created so as to purify the Israelite nation, and hence to raise the entire world along with Israel. As long as this goal has not been achieved Amalek must continue to exist. Moshe, who foresees all the coming generations, knows that Amalek still serves a purpose. Therefore he does not go out to war, and his hands become heavy. "Yet Aharon and Chur, who posses the appropriate outlook of the generation and the hour, were able to overcome it by supporting his hands. This was achieved by [Moshe's] humbling himself by not standing, a position that indicates the deployment of all his strengths, but rather he humbled and lessened his worth by sitting, which was undoubtedly the requirement of the hour - to strike a blow, if not a mortal one, on Amalek. Thus even Yehoshua was only able to weaken, rather than destroy, Amalek." There is certainly a need to keep struggling with Amalek, and hence for the time being it is not completely destroyed. But another aspect exists, that of coping with the needs of the hour. At this moment Amalek must be fought and weakened, for a battle is currently being fought between Israel and Amalek. Therefore Moshe sits, meaning he does not use all of his strength in standing. Aharon and Chur support Moshe's hands, and Yehoshua wages the actual war against Amalek and weakens them. We learn from this that Amalek serves a purpose; they are not a Divine "blunder." Our struggle with Amalek is precise and measured, without any random element. Now it is clear to us that the war with Amalek is based on an internal, Divine vision, and that only in this manner can the world be perfected. Therefore the war is just and moral.

Throughout the history of Am Yisrael, and each and every one of us personally, we run into questions of morality as opposed to the Divine command. Yet when we elevate our outlook to that of the Divine viewpoint, we discover an internal harmony between morality and Torah. Similarly, in our struggle today we must not allow ourselves to be taken in by the self-righteous who weaken the strength our argument. We will cling to the path of Hashem, and live a life of holiness and perfect morality.

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