When in Doubt, Do Without.
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
This week is Parashas Zachor, which means in place of the usual maftir, we
will skip ahead to Parashas Ki Seitzei and read about how Amalek attacked
the Jewish people shortly after they left Egypt. Many hold that the hearing
of this maftir is a Torah mitzvah that is incumbent on women too (Rav Noson
Adler, zt"l, was very stringent in making sure that all the women in his
house made it to shul to hear Parashas Zachor), which is why women make it
a point to be in shul for this week's erev Purim special maftir.
The truth is, the remembering of what Amalek did to the Jewish people is
not a once-in-a-year mitzvah; there is an obligation to remember every day
what happened. It's just that the Talmud says that the average memory lasts
about 12 months, and therefore, we need an official reminder once every 12
months. What about during a leap year which is 13 months long, you may be
asking? For this reason, the Chasom Sofer had in mind in such a year to
fulfill this mitzvah when actually reading the maftir in its proper time,
that is, during the reading of Parashas Ki Seitzei. This way, 12 months
would not pass without reading about Amalek.
However, why is Amalek, for all the evil he did, singled out as we see in
Moshe built an altar, and he named it, God-is-My-Banner. He said, "The hand
is on God's Throne. God will be at war with Amalek for all generations."
After all, the Jewish people have had, and still have, many enemies.
However, none have earned the wrath of G-d like Amalek did when he attacked
the Jewish people shortly after the munn miraculously fell from the sky.
Even though the midrash states that it is "natural" for Eisav to hate
Ya'akov, still, G-d is not at war with Eisav. Even though Yishmael has been
a thorn in our side throughout history his entire history, still, G-d did
not take any vow to annihilate his people. Only Amalek is considered to be
the complete antithesis of the Jewish nation, our spiritual nemesis.
The clue is right in Amalek's name. Numerically, the word Amalek (ayin,
mem, lamed, kuf) is equal to 240. It is brought down that this is not by
coincidence, because 240 happens to also be the gematria of the word
"sufek," which means "doubt" in Hebrew. This correlation exists to teach us
that Amalek is anything that causes doubt in the mind of the Jew. But doubt
The answer to this question comes from pointing out that the name Amalek
also equals the words, "el acher" (aleph, lamed, aleph, ches, raish), which
means "other god." In other words, Amalek creates doubt in G-d's oneness,
which is the source of idol worship, that is, the belief in other powers
(be they in the form of wood and stone, or gold and silver, that is,
money). This is why the Torah indicates and Rashi explains that Amalek even
causes a "split," so-to-speak" in the Ineffable Name of G-d, which is
another way of saying that nature gives the impression that it works
independently of G-d.
How does Amalek do this?
He does this by getting away with murder, literally. For example, one of
the biggest stumbling blocks in modern-day Jewry's belief in G-d is the
Holocaust. "Where was G-d in 1942?" is not an uncommon question. The
underpinning of this question is, "If G-d is here and runs the world, then
how could the Holocaust have occurred?"
But it did occur, and therefore, tragically, many a Jewish mind concludes,
G-d must not be there.
That has been called Hitler's greatest (or worse, depending upon who's
talking) legacy. For, every Jew who died in the Holocaust (even those who
had not been strong in their belief in G-d and Torah), are considered to
have died as Jews, and had therefore sanctified the Name of G-d. Even those
who "survived" the Holocaust and turned their backs on Judaism as a result
have been called "Holy Disbelievers," because of what they went through.
However, millions of Jews since then who have grown up during peaceful
times have simply turned their backs on Judaism, assimilating and even
intermarrying, for no reason other than the fact that creation seems to be
a "captain-less ship." After all, are they not growing up in a society that
believes (at least on some level) that "nice people finish last"? How could
nice people lose out if G-d, who, by definition must be just, is here and
is involved in everyday life? Or, more accurately (and this is the way the
question has been posed to me many times): Why doesn't lightning come down
from the sky every time there is a miscarriage of justice?
That's Amalek's favorite question. He uses it at every opportunity to sow
seeds of doubt in the mind of the Jew. Any question about the way the world
runs ends off with those words, or similar ones. And when no answer comes
to mind, he simply shrugs his shoulders and says, "You see! You don't have
to be so committed to Torah and Judaism after all ... Just ease up a bit
... Don't take yourself so seriously ... Normalize ..." What he really
means to say is, "You don't have to try to be so close to G-d since you
won't find Him anyway."
It's right about that point that the Hamans, the Hitlers, and the Husseins
of society emerge. Like bacteria that infest an unsterile environment,
Amalek grows within the spiritual void left by our own intellectual doubt.
When you're looking for "a way out," doubt can go a long way to clear one's
conscience to "free" the personal from being morally responsible, as the
The Jewish nation only worshipped idols to permit forbidden relationships
in public. (Sanhedrin 63b)
On the other hand, the self-honest and inquisitive mind uses doubt to
energize, to create the need for research to clarify and dispel doubt, to
turn "grays" back into clearly defined "blacks" and "whites" ... to return
"good" and "evil" (which can often be subjective) back into "true" and
"false" (which are absolute)
Instinctively we may be satisfied being spiritually ignorant. However, deep
inside our "heart of hearts," we know that it is from darkness that light
must emerge, that from chaos order must surface, otherwise ...
To win the battle against Amalek and avoid the spiritual and physical
destruction that follows in his wake, we have to re-commit ourselves to
intellectual-honesty, to examine and re-examine what we believe in and why
we do, and what we doubt, and where the doubt stems from. Such people are
the true heroes of society, for it is their questions that lead to the true
answers, and which pull back the spiritual mask from over the hidden hand
That is something worth remembering.
May we merit to draw down the "Hidden Light" of creation and witness the
eradication of all false beliefs, and enjoy the sublime pleasure that comes
from living doubt-free.