Amalek and the Yetzer Hara
You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out
of Egypt . . . (Devarim 25:17)
Though this Motzay Shabbos is Purim only for most Jews around the world,
this Shabbos Parashas Tzav is Parashas Zachor for all of us. In shuls around
the world Jews will recount once again how Amalek tried to eradicate the
Jewish people on their way to Har Sinai to receive Torah, and be reminded of
their mitzvah to eradicate him completely instead.
As mentioned before in the past, Jewish enemies tend to be our own creation.
Obviously the peoples themselves already exist, but the “spirit” that drives
them can come later on in history, when the need arises, based upon where
the Jewish people are holding with their relationship with God.
This idea was present all the back in the Garden of Eden, as the Leshem
The Sitra Achra descended and became clothed in the snake and approached
Chava to cause her to sin, as it says in the Zohar HaKodesh (Bereishis 35b;
36a), and Pirkei d’Rebi Eliezer (13) . . . All the things the snake did and
said were the result of the Sitra Achra, because of the evil spirit that
came upon man, God should have mercy upon us. All that he did and said was
because of the spirit that was within him, because the Sitra Achra was
clothed in the snake and it did all his bidding. (Drushei Olam HaTohu, Drush
Aitz HaDa’as, Siman 4)
The Leshem explains that the Sitra Achra didn’t just happen to choose the
snake as his vehicle to trip up the first man and woman. It was a classic
case of, “If the shoe fits, etc.” Kabbalistically, the snake was custom
designed to play the role that he did, if history required it.
Likewise, Amalek, as a people, existed long before the Jewish people ever
asked the question, “Is God among us or not?” (Shemos 17:4). He was already
around for some time before Moshe Rabbeinu even went down to Egypt to free
his enslaved people. But they were not sitting and planning for the day that
the Jewish people would pass their way so that they could attack them.
In fact, not being one of the seven Canaanite nations destined for
destruction, Amalek had nothing to fear from the Jewish people once they did
finally leave Egypt. The people of Amalek could have continued to mind their
own business and not have had to spend considerable time, money, and
manpower, to intercept the Jewish people on their way to Har Sinai, only to
lose a war. What possessed them to do the opposite?
The Torah places this section immediately after this verse (when they asked,
“Is God among us or not?”) to imply, “I am always amongst you and ready at
hand for everything you need, and yet you say, ‘Is God among us or not?’ By
your lives, that dog will come and bite you, and you will cry for Me and
then you will know where I am!” (Rashi, Shemos 17:8)
There are two ways to look at this. Either God simply wanted to punish the
Jewish people for their lack of faith in His Divine Providence and just
happen to choose Amalek to be the weapon of Divine discipline, as it says:
Amalek is a punishing strap. (Rashi, Bamidbar 21:1)
Or, Amalek was the instrument of choice because he was a “round hole” into
which the “round peg” fit, meaning that whatever negative spiritual reality
the Jewish people created by asking their question, Amalek was the container
into which it fit best. Like the original snake in Adam’s time, Amalek was
spiritually constructed from the beginning to fulfill the role he did once
it became necessary.
You find this about people in general. We tend to assume that a human is a
human is a human, which is true to some degree but not completely. Once you
travel the world and meet different peoples you find out just how different
one human can be from another, especially when the environments in which
they grow up tend to be very different.
Just as the physical body has this unique ability to adjust itself to
protect itself from the environment around it, so does consciousness tend to
adjust itself based upon the variables of life. In some societies certain
sensitivities are considered to be a boon whereas in others they are
considered to be a bust, and can even be dangerous.
There might even be a physical element to this as well. Recent studies of
the brain, especially of psychopaths, have shown how the wiring of the brain
can make a fundamental difference between a person who feels remorse for
committing a crime and a person who can break the law quite
matter-of-factly. It may not be that the adult thief became what he did
because he had a rough childhood, but it may be that the rough childhood
came because of the same faulty wiring that allows the adult to be a thief.
The bottom line is that nations tend to have proclivities toward the style
of life they have chosen. Whereas one nation may tend to be self-sacrificing
for higher moral values another nation may consider that to be a weakness,
and in need of eradication. That is what Hitler, ysv”z, a Social Darwinist,
certainly felt about helping the less fortunate.
It does not mean that any particular nation will constantly exhibit their
innate tendencies. If it had been clear from Day One that the German people
had been capable of carrying out the Holocaust maybe it would have been
easier to convince the world to step in to stop it, which they did not do
until 1945 and 6,000,000 Jews later.
The term used for such “coincidences” that bring together all of the “right”
elements for good, or for evil, is “Perfect Storm.” For example, when it
comes to the weather, very often certain factors will occur on their own on
a regular basis and cause little damage. But every once in a while they may,
for some reason, occur simultaneously creating what weather forecasters call
a “Perfect Storm.”
The term has found usage in life anywhere factors that don’t usually
coincide come together with disastrous results. Like Jewish doubt and the
people of Amalek, for example in Moshe Rabbeinu’s time, and the Jewish
people and their enemies in more recent times. Choose an enemy and its
method of persecution and you will, more than likely, find the problem
within the Jewish people of that generation.
The reason for this is fundamental. First of all, as the Talmud states, God
works measure-for-measure (Sanhedrin 90a). So, it stands to reason that if
we are doing something to anger God that “something” will come back to haunt
us at a future time. How else are we to learn from our mistakes?
The other more basic reason is because life is about tikun, rectification,
on a personal level and on a world level. As the Talmud says, punishment,
for the most part, is reserved for the world after this one, where it will
count the most (Kiddushin 39b), and even then it will also be for tikun
purposes. Any suffering we go through in this world is to help us grow
spiritually, to attain as much perfection as we can during our lifetimes to
avoid having to pursue it in future lifetimes.
This is very important to consider, because we have read Parashas Zachor
countless times throughout history and still suffer at the hands of our
enemies. One can only try to imagine what it must have been like for Jews on
Parashas Zachor during the days of the Holocaust, as they read about an
Amalek we had once defeated while suffering at the hands of a current one.
It would be nice to read Parashas Zachor without having to worry about any
future anti-Semitism. It would be nice to go into a Purim knowing that
persecution, of all innocent peoples, is a thing of the past. Not only do we
still have to worry about anti-Semitism and persecution, but today we have
to even worry about it internally, from Jews themselves.
That would change if we realized that our external enemies are just the
outward projection of our own internal spiritual lacking. The enemy may be
real, but the spirit that drives them, and especially against us, comes from
us. We empower our enemies.
This is one of the reasons why when we speak about the end of evil in the
Messianic Era, we talk talk about it disappearing like smoke. Though smoke
can look as solid as anything it takes but a simple wind to show us how it
is really just dirty air, and not concrete at all.
What’s the point? It is what we have been saying all along, that we give
strength to evil by virtue of our own spiritual shortcomings. However, in
Yemos HaMoshiach we will no longer have such spiritual shortcomings. As the
Talmud says, when Moshiach comes the yetzer hara goes (Succah 52a), and with
it all the spiritual hangups of mankind, and with that, the energy that
fueled our enemies.
On Purim we don’t simply celebrate the downfall of Haman and the end of his
planned genocide. We focus, rather, attention on ourselves, on our own
yetzer haras and how to rectify them. This is because only once we
accomplish this can we truly celebrate the final downfall of all our
enemies, not just Amalek. We should merit to witness this in our time. Purim
Text Copyright © 2014 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.