“Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt!”
It is so easy to condemn and criticize others while dismissing our own sinful behaviors. I, like so many other Americans, fear Islamic fanaticism and find their religious message to be grossly one-dimensional and misleading. The average American can plainly see that their actions speak volumes louder than their words.
Yet I often ask myself: who am I to judge? Is my religion picture perfect? Is the Torah filled only with peace-loving romanticism regarding the treatment of other faiths? Really! If you answered in the affirmative, perhaps I should remind you of the words of Parshat Zachor: Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt. We are commanded to eradicate them and their memory and never forget the atrocities committed against our ancestors. Of course it is possible to differentiate between defensive positions instructed in the Torah and random acts of terrorism committed against innocent civilians. But even with justification, is this slippery slope one you are comfortable descending? Would you be comfortable explaining this component of Judaism to your children and grandchildren? I imagine they would be aghast and ashamed that our religious views seem closer to Sharia law than American law. More so, if we consider the Torah nitzchiyut – eternal, is the law mandating us to destroy Amalek really something we are prepared to accept unquestionably? Granted (to our knowledge) Amalek no longer exists and thus this obligation is currently moot; would any of us even have the ability to fulfill this mandate?
I thus want to propose a novel way of interpreting these verses in which we focus on the root issues rather than the acts of violence. We must remember that our focus should be less on Amalek’s actions and more on what precipitated them and why. The verse that is often ignored states: And he (Amalek) struck only the weakest ones, those in the rear. The Talmud explains that those in the rear were from the tribe of Dan, a tribe that had abandoned the Jewish way of life and embraced heretical philosophies. The mainstay of Judaism wanted nothing to do with them and thus alienated their brothers and sisters from the protective ring. Their exclusion left them in the rear, alone and defenseless, thus giving Amalek the opportunity to ambush their target without fear of reprisal.
If the focus is solely on the eradication of those that stand against us, then sadly we have no moral justification for criticizing Islam or other religions that use their Bible teachings to promote reprehensible acts. However, if we shift our focus away from Amalek and on to us, then we are forced to remember what happens when we abandon and alienate a segment of the Jewish people. We are reminded to never forget that Kol Yisrael Areivim zeh lazeh – all Jews are responsible for each other. We must never allow differences in observance to justify castigation or abandonment. We have an obligation to remember that Amalek succeeded in attacking because the Jews lacked communal responsibility. We must never forget that a nation is cacophony of individuals with different views and outlooks.
The eradication of Amalek is meant to ensure that what led to their destructive power over the Jewish people will never be repeated. On Purim we are told to give mishloach manot – gifts to one another. The mitzvah is one of inclusion and not predicated on need; it is intended solely to promote brotherhood and friendship. It meant to generate the mentality of shalem – wholeness and to destroy a caste mentality that often permeates religious thought. To ensure that our future is bright, that Am Yisrael Chai; is to realize that shalom (peace) is derived from shalem. An initiative that promotes harmony and tolerance can help balance the forces of nature and prevent another Amalek from ever descending upon man.