The Bible tells us that when the Israelites left Egypt, they were attacked from behind by Amalek and his people. The Amalekites attacked those who were lagging slowly behind the rest of the people: the elderly, the sick, and the weak. Instead of confronting the Israelite people in a traditional battle or war, Amalek ambushed them, as a terrorist would.
In a tradition that encourages questioning and disagreement over text, there is only one way to read this story. The Amalekite people are the epitome of evil. They didn’t merely go to war with the Israelites. They slaughtered those who could not defend themselves. And therefore, God commanded the Israelites to wipe out the memory of Amalek.
Alongside this story, we read a portion from the Writings (part of the larger cannon of the Bible, but not part of the Five Books of Moses) about King Saul. Saul fought a war with King Agog, a descendant of Amalek, and was commanded to kill him, but didn’t, out of pity. Thus the people of Amalek lived on, to continue to torment the Jews for generations.
Since the time of King Saul, the Jews have faced many “Amaleks”, set out for our destruction. Ironically, many of them come from the same area of the world – what we know today as Iran, formerly known as Persia. Some of the ancestral connections are more obvious than others. It is clear from the text that Haman, the villain in the Book of Esther was a direct descendant of Agog. Some have made the connection that Sadaam Hussein and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran (modern Persia), are also descendants of Agog and Amalek – and given what they want(ed) to do to the Jews and where they come from, it would come as no surprise if there was ever biological evidence to support this.
In modern terminology, Amalek has come to represent those who want to exterminate the Jews. In a broader sense, I would say that Amalek represents the senseless hatred, the murderous impulse, and the love of seeing other people suffer.
If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you’d like to know how this ancient Biblical story relate to our lives today! And I will tell you!
Thursday evening marks the holiday of Purim. The holiday where Queen Esther saved the Jewish people of Persia from being wiped out by the wicked Haman. It is a time of merriment, celebration, and partying. After all, we survived! It is a time of dressing up in costume, eating lots of delicious food, and, depending on how you read the text, getting rather drunk. Based on when it happens to fall this year, the holiday will last for a full three days in Jerusalem. In an ideal time, it should be an extended party that would make any frat boy jealous!
But this isn’t an ideal time. Merely two weeks after the tragedy of Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, it is hard to turn sorrow into merriment. The police are warning that this week marks 40 days after Mugniyah was killed in Syria – an event that Hizbollah attributes to Israel – and are on high alert for revenge attacks on Israel. Travel restrictions are scheduled for the West Bank. Warnings are being issued about specific roads and areas. And obviously, the residents of Ashkelon, S’derot, and other Israeli cities in shooting range of Gaza, are expecting an increase in rocket attacks.
At the same time, an extremist rabbi has called for revenge attacks on Arabs, a protest of right-wing settlers turned into an attempt to bring down the home of the Mercaz HaRav terrorist, and a prominent Haredi rabbi, known for his legal decisions, issued a ruling that yeshivot (learning centers) have to fire the Arabs working for them, and already the ruling has begun being followed.
It is clear to me that the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah may not genetically be the descendants of Amalek, but ideologically, they are one and the same. But it scares me to know that there are Jews prepared to act in Amalek’s name as well. We are heading into a very dark time if there are Jews who are ready to give up the Torah laws in favor of revenge.
The State must defend its citizens. And there is a valid argument to be made that Israel isn’t doing a good enough job of defense. However, this will most certainly be the beginning of the end, if Jews stoop to the level of Amalek and attack those weaker than us, without the pretext and rules of war. In a place where Jews murder, take revenge on, and discriminate against Arabs, they will ultimately murder, take revenge on, and discriminate against their fellow Jews. And that is unthinkable.