You must blot out the memory of Amalek … (Devarim 25:19)
This week is Parashas Zachor, the second of the special parshios for this time of year, this one the Shabbos in advance of Purim. Purim is the celebration and commemoration of the overturning of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews of his time, and Parashas Zachor reminds us yearly of the ongoing need to obliterate Amalek, the biological ancestor of Haman, and, the conceptual ancestor of just about every anti-Semite that has ever lived — be he secular OR of another religion.
There is an interesting story in the Talmud that says much about the struggle against Amalek in every generation. It goes like this:
… Rav Dimi of Nehardah said: On the contrary, one who is exact [in Torah] should be made the teacher, because an error impressed upon the mind of a child remains there forever, as it is written, “For six months Yoav remained there with Israel until he had cut off every male of Edom.” (I Melachim 11:16). When he came before Dovid and was asked why he had done so, he answered, “Because it is written, ‘You must blot out each zachar (male) of Amalek’ (Devarim 25:19).” Dovid said to him, “But we read ‘zeicher’ (‘remembrance,’ that is, ALL Amalekians — both male AND female).” Yoav answered, “But my teacher taught me to pronounce it ‘zachar’.” He then sent for his teacher, and asked him how to read the word, and he answered, “You must blot out each male of Amalek.” So, he took out his sword and wanted to kill him … (Bava Basra 21a)
Why did Yoav want to kill his childhood teacher? Just because of a simple mispronunciation of a three-letter word from the Torah? Yes! Because the incorrect vocalization of this simple little three-letter word resulted in an unbelievable catastrophe for Jewish AND world history. Remember when Shaul HaMelech failed to kill the Amalekian King Agag, because of a simple but powerful miscalculation — thereby allowing for the eventual birth of Haman (I Shmuel 15:9)? Yoav’s was a repeat performance.
In other words, just as Shaul HaMelech had before him THE opportunity to completely obliterate any last vestige of Amalek, and — this is the most dramatic part — bring Moshiach and redemption from ALL evil in his day, so, too, did Yoav have a similar opportunity before him! And, he would have gladly done the deed, had he not been taught incorrectly by his cheder teacher!
One word, two pronunciations, and a world of difference between the two. It is hard to believe, but the difference between exile and redemption can come down to a few dots and dashes (we’re not talking Morse Code here, but Hebrew vowels …)!!!
Is that fair?!
The answer is, of course, that the mistaken vocalization of the word “zeicher” was not the essential mistake itself, but the end result of a much larger mistake that began long before Yoav’s time. The Oral Law, the foundation of Torah-true Judaism, depends upon the accurate transmission of its many, many details. Such accuracy demands vigilance and life-sacrificing devotion, and above all, a love of G-d and His Torah, not to mention a sense of gratefulness to be learning and sharing it with future generations.
Without such devotion, sloppiness results and leads to a less clear understanding and remembrance of the details of Torah Sh’b’al Peh — The Oral Law. Eventually it leads to mistaken interpretations, G-d forbid, and weakened pillars of Judaism. And, eventually, such an approach to Torah leads to Amalek — the gematria of which is “sufek,” the Hebrew word for “doubt” (B’nei Yissaschar, Purim).
According to Rav Tzaddok HaKohen, that is why Haman built his gallows exceptionally high to hang Mordechai, fifty amos (100 feet) high to be exact. The number FIFTY always alludes to the famous “Fifty Gates of Understanding,” the intellectual well-spring of the Oral Law:
… The aitz that Haman built fifty amos high corresponded to the Fifty Gates of Understanding that are in Torah Sh’b’al Peh which is of the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah … (Pri Tzaddik, Purim 2)
Hence, Parashas Zachor is not just telling us to eradicate the memory of Amalek, it is a reminder to REMEMBER the details of Torah Sh’b’al Peh well, VERY well, for, in doing so, we obliterate doubt in Torah, and the memory of Amalek simultaneously, once-and-for-all.
And He (G-d) called Moshe, and G-d spoke to him from the Appointed Tent, saying … (Vayikra 1:1)
On this posuk the Midrash comments:
“And He called Moshe” … It is not like it was for Avraham; with respect to Avraham, it is written, “The angel of G-d called him (Avraham) …” (Bereishis 22:11) — the angel called him, and the word was spoken. But here, Rav Avin said: The Holy One, Blessed is He, said, “I will be the one to call and speak …” (Vayikra Rabbah 1:1)
In other words, says the Midrash, Moshe had the added honor of not only being spoke to by G-d, or at least hearing the word of G-d, but, he was summoned for that message by G-d as well! The only thing is, asks the Shem M’Shmuel, what difference does it make in the end WHO calls; is not the message the main thing?
To answer this question, the Shem M’Shmuel introduces a beautiful concept that his father, the Iglei Tal, taught over. This idea too is based upon the first posuk of this week’s parshah, specifically the first word of the posuk, “vayikra” (“and He called”) whose final letter (aleph) is written smaller than the rest of the letters, alluding to another word, “vayikar” (“And He chanced”).
“All statements, all discussions, and all commandments [from G-d] were preceded by a “calling” (kriyah), a language [that implies G-d’s] affection [for the prophet] … However, for the prophets of the Nations of the World, He only revealed Himself in way that implied temporariness and impurity [on the prophet’s behalf], as it says, ‘And G-d chanced (vayikar) upon Bilaam …’ (Bamidbar 23:4) …” (Rashi)
This distinction, Rashi is telling us, is hinted at as a result of the reduced aleph on the word “vayikra.”
The Iglei Tal goes further:
“The word “vayikar” implies that the message comes to him (the prophet) to where he is; he does not [spiritually] ascend through the message he receives. Hence, Bilaam remained on the “outside.” However, the word “vayikra” implies that he (the prophet) is being summoned “up” to receive the message.”
You can’t find much holier than the word of G-d. G-d Himself epitomizes holiness, as He says:
“… Be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy.” (Vayikra 19:2)
— and therefore, all that emanates out from Him, by definition, must be holy.
But what about creation? There are so many unholy things in this world … how can that be, if creation is G-d’s handiwork? If all that G-d creates — and that is EVERYTHING that exists — is, by definition holy, how can there exist so many IMPURE people and things, so many evil people throughout history?
It’s a paradox (or, ultimately, a temporary illusion) to be sure, and, a necessary evil to provide man with some form of free-will (is anything in This World ever really “free”?). Better yet, it is a “starting point” from which we are supposed to grow out of and up — toward G-d, that is, to unite with Him and receive His blessing in a state of holiness that we merit through acting in a holy fashion.
This is what the words:
“… Be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy.”
really mean. They are an invitation, like the word “vayikra” in this week’s parshah, to rise up toward G-d, and to allow the words of Torah to elevate us up toward Him to receive an even clearer and more comprehensive message from Him on a regular basis.
Without this, G-d will only occasionally “exile” His Presence by sending it down into the Lower, spiritually-defiled realm, to deliver His message — but usually only for the sake of righteous people, and usually at a cost to the less holy. If we don’t like to have to go into exile, can we assume the Shechinah doesn’t mind it?
And, that is why the miracle of Purim was hidden, and why the miracle of Chanukah was revealed, the former being in “Chutz L’Aretz” (“Outside the Land”) and the latter being in “Eretz Yisroel.”
This is also why the Megillah makes no overt mention of G-d, for, it hints at the fact that the Jewish people forced the Divine Presence to have to come down to them in an impure place, whereas, the miracles of Chanukah were overt miracles, because the Jews accepted Heaven’s invitation and “rose” to the occasion to meet G-d on His own “turf,” so-to-speak. And hence, we spin the “grager” from below, and the “dreidel” from above, to indicate this difference, and to remind ourselves of it each year at Purim-time.
When a single soul (Nefesh) sins accidentally … (Vayikra 4:27)
According to Kabbalah, even though the term “Nefesh” can be used to refer to a person, it is specifically used with respect to Sin-Offerings to indicate that it is only this level of soul that can be involved in a sin. The other four levels of soul (Ruach, Neshamah, Chiyah, and Yechidah) are far too holy to be involved in a transgression.
This is part of the seriousness of a sin, on any level. Not only has a person transgressed against the will of G-d, but he have harnessed the holy power of the level of soul called “Nefesh” to commit that transgression. It is a real profanation of the holy.
This is also indicated by the fact that it is the sprinkling of the blood on the altar from the sacrificed animal that actually results in atonement for the transgressor. Other parts and procedures in the actual sacrifice are important, but it is the blood of the animal itself that brings atonement for the “blood” of the human, and provides him with another opportunity to make good on the rest of his life.
For, the Hebrew word “Adam” is made up of two parts, the letter “aleph” and the word “dumm” (dalet-mem). The letter “aleph,” which stands for the number “one” and alludes to the Hebrew word “aluph” (“chieftain”), always alludes to G-d, Who is “One” and, the “Chief of Chiefs,” so-to-speak. Therefore, with respect to the name of man, “Adam,” it represents man’s godly component, that is, his soul.
The word Hebrew word “dumm” means “blood,” and symbolizes the physical component of the creation called “Adam.” Thus, in one, simple three-letter word, we have an allusion to one of the deepest concepts in all of creation: man’s essential make-up, that is, a physical being within which a soul is housed.
Hence, it is the Nefesh — the soul-element of man — that brings the animal-blood of atonement — representing the physical element of man. Both elements take responsibility for the sin, and therefore, both elements must be involved in rectifying that which went wrong.
A song, a psalm, by the sons of Korach … (Tehillim 48:1)
Thus begins the tehillah for the “Shir Shel Yom” for the second day of the week, Monday. Notice the name mentioned: Korach! For those who forget, Korach was the one who dared to challenge the authority of Moshe Rabbeinu while in the desert, and he, with most of those who joined his rebellion, was subsequently swallowed up by the earth as a Divine punishment (Bamidbar 16:23).
Yet, Korach’s sons merited to compose a portion of the holy book of Tehillim. According to the Zohar, Korach’s sons composed this tehillah while teetering on the brink of Gehinnom! Had they not repented then and there, that’s where they would have descended to, along with their father and his companions.
So why the psalm for the second day of the week?
If you go back to your Chumash, you will recall that it was on the second day of creation that G-d made the division between the heavens and the earth, and, ruled over both (Rosh Hashanah 31a). However, it was a division that introduced schism in creation, and can be called the cosmic “root” of Korach’s rebellion, and therefore, a reminder of the need to be on guard against disunion and argument.
… Great is G-d and much praised in the city of our G-d, Mount of His Holiness … (48:2)
This verse is certainly relevant today. It refers to our dream and fervent prayer that the glory of G-d be restored to Jerusalem, and, particularly, to the Temple Mount. Today? The glory of G-d is but barely visible, a mosque occupies the “Mount of His Holiness,” and the head of Edom’s religion is about to walk the holiest location in the universe, Purim-time, of all times!
(When the Israelis pleaded with the Pope not to come at a time that would force the desecration of Shabbos by thousands of Israeli soldiers, many of which are in fact “Shomer Shabbos,” he reportedly replied, “If you can profane your Sabbath for a turbine, then, you can profane it for me, the head of the largest religion in the world!”)
… Mark her ramparts well, raise up her palaces, that you may recount it to the generations that follow, that this is G-d, our G-d forever and ever — He will guide us until death. (48:14-15)
These are the closing words of this tehillah. The Midrash interprets these words to mean, “above death,” as in immortality (Tanchuma, Bamidbar 17). They make a point that, perhaps, Korach had missed, and his sons had realized balancing on the edge of Gehinnom. Whatever your ambitions, whatever your complaints, keep in mind that all of it is temporary compared to the world to which G-d is leading us.
As the Talmud warns, no one REALLY sins unless overcome by insanity (Sotah 3a). What kind of insanity? The kind that results from over-focusing on the possibilities of success in This World, while overlooking the possibilities of success in the World-to-Come. In spite of the fact that G-d leads us like children, we push off His “hand” and go it alone.
For the sake of free-will, G-d allows us to, just as He did Korach and his rebellion. For the sake of the future of the Jewish people, G-d puts a stop to the nonsense, at the right moment, just as He did with Korach and his followers, and throughout Jewish history. The only question is, must we teeter on the brink of Gehinnom before coming to this realization? Must we stare Amalek in the eyes before we wake up to our destiny?
Have a great Shabbos, and a freilechen Purim, Winston Pinchas (Oops … It’s that Purim spirit!)