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By Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff | Series: | Level:

The Sfas Emes begins with the first Medrash Rabba on Parshas Vayikra. That Medrash starts with a comment by R. Tanchum on the pasuk in Tehillim (103:20): “Borachu HaShem mal’achav, giborei ko’ach, osei retzono, lishmo’ah bekohl devaro.” (ArtScroll: “Bless HaShem, O His angels; the strong warriors who do His bidding, to obey the voice of His word.”)

R. Tanchum asks: Who are the mal’achim (angels, emissaries, agents) that the pasuk has in mind? The pasuk cannot be referring to the celestial mal’achim. Why not? Because they are the subject of the next pasuk (“Borachu HaShem kohl tzeva’av.” ArtScroll: “Bless HaShem, all His legions, His servants who do His will.”) How do we know this subsequent pasuk refers to the celestial mal’achim? Because the pasuk refers to “all His legions — “all” implying. compliance by the entirety of the legions. Only of the celestial mal’achim can we speak of total compliance with HaShem’s commands. Rather, the first pasuk is referring to mal’achim in the terrestrial sphere, i.e., to human beings who conduct themselves as HaShem’s agents in this world.

The Sfas Emes emphasizes that, in principle, we can all recognize that this is why we are sent to this world — to carry out HaShem’s will. And to the degree that we manage to control ourselves and to make our actions manifestations of HaShem’s Presence, we too can become mal’achim – agents, with no agenda of our own.

Why do Chazal mention this topic in the context of the first pasuk of Vayikra? Because Moshe Rabbeinu is the ultimate in this role, always ready to attend to retzon HaShem (the will of HaShem). Where do we see Moshe Rabbeinu’s constant, immediate availability? In the first pasuk of Sefer Vayikra, where the Torah tells us — with no preamble or introduction — “HaShem called Moshe … ” And we know that Moshe was always there, ready to receive his next mission.

Note one “side effect” of Moshe’s posture. Moshe Rabbeinu had ample cause to be unhappy with his life. One of his children did not follow in his footsteps. He knew for a fact that despite all of his efforts, B~nei Yisroel would go off the derech prescribed by HaShem. Last but not least, HaShem denied Moshe his prayer to enter Eretz Yisroel. Despite these serious reverses, Moshe Rabbeinu does not come across as a victim; indeed, not even as a tragic hero. I suggest that the reason for his equanimity was precisely the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu had no ego of his own. Viewing himself totally as an agent to carry out HaShem’s will, he could separate himself from his personal desires.

The next portion of the ma~amar requires some background information. Vayikra, 1:1-13 tells us, in connection with a korban olah (burnt offering) brought with an animal: “Olah hu, isheh rei’ach nicho’ach LaShem.” (That is, in G. Hirschler’s translation of R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch: “It is an ascent offering, an offering made by fire as an expression of compliance to HaShem.”)

Similarly, if a person brings a much less expensive korban olah, a turtle- dove, the Torah (Vayikra 1:17) uses the very same words to describe HaShem’s reaction (as it were): “Isheh rei’ach nicho’ach LaShem.” Likewise, in its discussion of the korban that a poor person brings – an offering of flour – the Torah (Vayikra 2:2) uses the very same words: “Isheh rei’ach nicho’ach LaShem.”

These three korbanos involve very different financial costs. The fact that, nevertheless, HaShem accepts each of these offerings in the same way led Chazal to comment (in the last mishna in Menachos): “Echad hamarbeh, ve~echad hamam’it, u’bilvad she’yecha’vein ahdam da’ato la’shamyim.” That is, if people focus on serving HaShem, it does not matter whether in their actions they do more or they do less. In both cases, they receive the same degree of acceptance from HaShem; the cosmic impact, so to speak, is identical.

Concerning the halachic implications of this mishna, speak to your poseik. But before asking, note the powerful condition to qualify: “u’bilvad she’yecha’vein ahdam … ” (“provided people focus on serving HaShem …”).

We continue with essential background information. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, Siman 1, Se’eef 4) discusses the recitation of Tikun Chatzos (the special text said at midnight to plead with HaShem for the ultimate redemption). Tikun Chatzos is not an easy text. Perhaps for that reason, the Shulchan Aruch states: “Tov me’aht tachanunim bekavana mei’harbei shelo bekavana.” (That is: It is better to say fewer words of prayer with proper focus on what one is saying than to say more words without proper focus.)

This statement echoes our text of “Echad hamarbeh … “. The Taz, a major commentary on the Shulchan Oruch, raises the question: Why should the marbeh and the mam’it receive the same reward? If both do the mitzva with proper focus of serving HaShem, should not the person who does more receive a greater reward? This question of the Taz reflects the conventional reading of the text “Echad hamarbeh … “. That reading assumes, as a self- evident fact, that the person who does more must have greater merit than the person who does less.

The Sfas Emes reads the text very differently. In fact, one might say that he turns the text on its head. (To this the Sfas Emes might reply that he found the conventional reading of the text upside down, and therefore he had to set it right.) Thus, the Sfas Emes asks: Why should the one who does more receive the same reward as the person who does less? Both have achieved the same desired result, namely, to focus their attention on serving HaShem. But the one who does less has achieved this result more economically. Efficiently. By being more efficient, he has freed resources – – time and energy — that can be used for other tasks of Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chassodim. Therefore, shouldn’t he receive a greater reward?

The Sfas Emes uses a parable to clarify his message. The parable tells of two merchants from the same town, both of whom have to travel to the same destination. One merchant arrives there quickly; but the other merchant arrives only after long delay. When asked why he was so long in arriving, that merchant replied: After all, I finally reached the destination. Let’s not discuss my problems in getting here!”

That is, the person who invests the greater effort in achieving the objective who — rather than being lauded for his exertion — would be expected to explain himself. But now come the comforting words: ” Echad ha’marbeh…” telling us that the purpose of our actions is “… she’yecha’vein … da’ato lashamayim” (that we focus on our relationship with HaShem). Thus, provided we achieve the objective of the korban – to bring us closer to HaShem — it does not matter how much we have to strive to reach that objective.

You may find the logic of the Sfas Emes so persuasive that you end with the opposite question. Why does the ‘ inferior’ person (the one who expends more resources to reach the desired goal) get the same reward as the ‘superior’ person (the one gets the job done more efficiently)? The Sfas Emes’ parable — and his radical reading of “Echad ha’marbeh ” — focus our attention on the key take-home lesson: “U’bilvad she’yecha’vein da’ato…”


Note: In the year 5631 (1872), the first time that the Sfas Emes addressed Parshas Zachor as Gerrer Rebbe, Parshas Zachor coincided with Shabbos Vayikra. For this reason, the Sfas Emes began his ma’amar with remarks on Vayikra. Because our focus here is on Parshas Zachor, we will skip the Sfas Emes’s remarks on Vayikra, and go directly to the part of the ma’amar that discusses Zachor. You will find this at the top of the second column on the page.

Sfas Emes, zechuso tagein aleinu, Parshas Zachor 5632

This Shabbos we have a special, additional Torah reading, Parshas Zachor. That text (Devarim, 25: 17-19) teaches us the mitzva to remember to wipe out Amalek.

Clearly, the Torah views this as an extremely important mitzva, Thus, the tone with which the Torah tells us about this mitzva is unusually stark.. Likewise, this is one of the few Torah texts that we read in Shul twice in the course of a year — both on the Shabbos before Purim, and later in the year, as part of the regular cycle of Torah reading. Moreover, the reinforcement that comes with this doubled reading is in addition to an (almost) parallel text (Shemos, 17, 14-16). The pesukim there also speak of the importance of obliterating Amalek. Finally, to underline the importance of our remembering what we have to do, Parshas Zachor is the only Torah reading in the entire year which we are all obliged to hear — men and women — as a mitzva de’oraisa (a Commandment specified explicitly in the Torah).

With our heightened awareness of this mitzva’s special importance, let us see what the Sfas Emes says about me’chiyas (wiping out) Amalek. Before we begin that discussion, note some potential problems that arise when we attempt to deal with this mitzva.

A basic question: How do we go about performing this mitzva? That is, what do we have to do to fulfill our obligation of wiping out Amalek? How to perform this mitzva is especially unclear because of a special feature of this situation. Chazal tell us that Sancheriv, the Assyrian king, forced the many nations that he conquered to leave their homelands and settle elsewhere. As a result of these mass population movements, Chazal say, we can no longer identify the nations to which the Torah refers — e.g., Amalek — with the present-day inhabitants of the lands that bear those historic names.

One might suppose that because we can no longer know who is Amalek, this mitzva would lapse. Not so! Sefer HaChinuch tells us that this mitzva still applies. With our curiosity piqued by these questions, we proceed eagerly to the words of the Sfas Emes.

The Sfas Emes tells us: “Ve’ikar peirush ze’chira hi penimiyus ha’chiyus.” That is, the essence of zechira (from the root of Zachor)is a person”s inner vibrancy; that is, his inner consciousness and awareness. If zechira is awareness/consciousness, we can understand what the Torah means when it tells us to obliterate Amalek. The Sfas Emes makes this interpretation explicit. How do we ” wipe out Amalek? ” By living our lives in a state of awareness. Thus in the words of the Sfas Emes, obliterating Amalek means: never doing anything “derech ara’i” — i.e., in a casual, not thought- through manner.

The Sfas Emes has given us a radically new interpretation of the mitzva of wiping out Amalek. Unfortunately, he did not fully explain what led him to his startling conclusion. For lack of full information on how he arrived where he arrived, his interpretaion may seem arbitrary. To counter that (false) impression, I suggest some corroborative information that the Sfas Emes may have had in mind in reaching this interpretation.

The Torah tells us about the mitzva of wiping out Amalek in Devarim 25:17- 19. One posuk there says: “Ve’haya behani’ach HaShem Elokecha le’cha mi’kohl o’yevcha mi’saviv … timche … ” (ArtScroll: “When HaShem will give you rest from all of your enemies around you, wipe out … “) This pasuk is saying that we are to deal with Amalek at a time when we have no problems with the outside world. The implication is clear: Amalek is within us, presumably in our dei’os ra’os (reprehensible ideas.)

What might these reprehensible ideas be? In indicting Amalek, the Torah says about him: ” Who happened upon you (“asher korcha”) when you were on the road, after you left Egypt.” The key word here is “korcha.” In addition to its literal meaning (“happened upon you,”), this word is also rich in allusions. Thus, Chazal add: Amalek “cooled you off” (from the word “kor” — cold), lowering the intensity of your previously warm relationship with HaShem.

How did Amalek “cool us off?” By inducing us to think that the world is governed by “mikreh” (chance) rather than by hashgacha (Divine Providence). By contrast, we know that the letters of the word mikreh” (when written in Hebrew script) — i.e., MKRH — form the words: “rak mei’HaShem”. that is: “only from HaShem” — the very opposite of a world where chance rules.

Note further an allusion prompted by the gematria (i.e., the numerical value of the letters that form the word) of “Amalek.” The gematria turns out to be the same as the gematria of the letters that form the word “safeik” (doubt). Thus, we see what Chazal meant when they told us that Amalek “cooled off” our people . We see further why the Sfas Emes may have arrived at his powerful new interpretation of me’chiyas Amalek.

Moreover, the Sfas Emes is telling us that under the heading of “obliterating Amalek,” the Torah is advising us to avoid a serious danger to which we can easily fall prey. That danger is a mindset that sees life as a series of meaningless, random events. Indeed, this mindset attempts to plant a doubt in our minds as to whether life has any meaning or purpose at all. And even if this mindset concedes token adherence to a life of Torah, this mindset tells us to “be cool” — not to live that Torah life with warmth, intensity, and devotion.

Note how the Sfas Emes’s interpretation — do not live your life in a casual manner — fits in snugly with one of the themes of Purim. The English-language name for Purim is: “the Feast of Lots”. This name comes from the “lots” which Haman cast to determine the date of our annihilation. The more common Hebrew word for “lots” is “goral” — a word which has two meanings. ” Goral” can mean a random event, a purely chance happening. Also “goral” sometimes refers to unavoidable fate. In that sense, “goral” sees our lives as governed by arbitrary forces beyond our control.

Both of these meanings go strongly counter to our hashkofo(ideological perspective). A Torah perspective views our lives as governed by hashgocho peratis. This individualized Divine Providence, in turn,is susceptible to being influenced by our conduct. Thus the very name of Purim suggests (in a typically hidden fashion) two mindsets that the Sfas Emes has told us to eradicate by wiping out Amalek! Living our lives in constant awareness of HaShem — i.e., me’chiyas Amalek — will save us from those two all too prevalent dead ends.

Finally, recall the context within which these words are being said. The Sfas Emes is speaking to his Chassidim on Shabbos Zachor. In that context, he points out that Shabbos provides an excellent opportunity to think through how we are living our lives; and thus to fulfill the mitzva of “zachor.” How so? Because Shabbos is a time of menucha (repose); and repose is conducive to serious thought and introspection. Note further: the posuk in Devarim cited above (the posuk which commands us to obliterate Amalek), begins with the words “Vehaya behaniach”. We can read the word ‘behaNiaCH ” as coming from the same root as the word “meNuCha”, thus giving a special role for Shabbos Zachor in the Sfas Emes’s unique version of me’chiyas Amalek.The Sfas Emes begins with the first Medrash Rabba on Parshas Vayikra. That Medrash starts with a comment by R. Tanchum on the pasuk in Tehillim (103:20): “Borachu HaShem mal’achav, giborei ko’ach, osei retzono, lishmo’ah bekohl devaro.” (ArtScroll: “Bless HaShem, O His angels; the strong warriors who do His bidding, to obey the voice of His word.”)

R. Tanchum asks: Who are the mal’achim (angels, emissaries, agents) that the pasuk has in mind? The pasuk cannot be referring to the celestial mal’achim. Why not? Because they are the subject of the next pasuk (“Borachu HaShem kohl tzeva’av.” ArtScroll: “Bless HaShem, all His legions, His servants who do His will.”) How do we know this subsequent pasuk refers to the celestial mal’achim? Because the pasuk refers to “all His legions — “all” implying. compliance by the entirety of the legions. Only of the celestial mal’achim can we speak of total compliance with HaShem’s commands. Rather, the first pasuk is referring to mal’achim in the terrestrial sphere, i.e., to human beings who conduct themselves as HaShem’s agents in this world.

The Sfas Emes emphasizes that, in principle, we can all recognize that this is why we are sent to this world — to carry out HaShem’s will. And to the degree that we manage to control ourselves and to make our actions manifestations of HaShem’s Presence, we too can become mal’achim – agents, with no agenda of our own.

Why do Chazal mention this topic in the context of the first pasuk of Vayikra? Because Moshe Rabbeinu is the ultimate in this role, always ready to attend to retzon HaShem (the will of HaShem). Where do we see Moshe Rabbeinu’s constant, immediate availability? In the first pasuk of Sefer Vayikra, where the Torah tells us — with no preamble or introduction — “HaShem called Moshe … ” And we know that Moshe was always there, ready to receive his next mission.

Note one “side effect” of Moshe’s posture. Moshe Rabbeinu had ample cause to be unhappy with his life. One of his children did not follow in his footsteps. He knew for a fact that despite all of his efforts, B~nei Yisroel would go off the derech prescribed by HaShem. Last but not least, HaShem denied Moshe his prayer to enter Eretz Yisroel. Despite these serious reverses, Moshe Rabbeinu does not come across as a victim; indeed, not even as a tragic hero. I suggest that the reason for his equanimity was precisely the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu had no ego of his own. Viewing himself totally as an agent to carry out HaShem’s will, he could separate himself from his personal desires.

The next portion of the ma~amar requires some background information. Vayikra, 1:1-13 tells us, in connection with a korban olah (burnt offering) brought with an animal: “Olah hu, isheh rei’ach nicho’ach LaShem.” (That is, in G. Hirschler’s translation of R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch: “It is an ascent offering, an offering made by fire as an expression of compliance to HaShem.”)

Similarly, if a person brings a much less expensive korban olah, a turtle- dove, the Torah (Vayikra 1:17) uses the very same words to describe HaShem’s reaction (as it were): “Isheh rei’ach nicho’ach LaShem.” Likewise, in its discussion of the korban that a poor person brings – an offering of flour – the Torah (Vayikra 2:2) uses the very same words: “Isheh rei’ach nicho’ach LaShem.”

These three korbanos involve very different financial costs. The fact that, nevertheless, HaShem accepts each of these offerings in the same way led Chazal to comment (in the last mishna in Menachos): “Echad hamarbeh, ve~echad hamam’it, u’bilvad she’yecha’vein ahdam da’ato la’shamyim.” That is, if people focus on serving HaShem, it does not matter whether in their actions they do more or they do less. In both cases, they receive the same degree of acceptance from HaShem; the cosmic impact, so to speak, is identical.

Concerning the halachic implications of this mishna, speak to your poseik. But before asking, note the powerful condition to qualify: “u’bilvad she’yecha’vein ahdam … ” (“provided people focus on serving HaShem …”).

We continue with essential background information. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, Siman 1, Se’eef 4) discusses the recitation of Tikun Chatzos (the special text said at midnight to plead with HaShem for the ultimate redemption). Tikun Chatzos is not an easy text. Perhaps for that reason, the Shulchan Aruch states: “Tov me’aht tachanunim bekavana mei’harbei shelo bekavana.” (That is: It is better to say fewer words of prayer with proper focus on what one is saying than to say more words without proper focus.)

This statement echoes our text of “Echad hamarbeh … “. The Taz, a major commentary on the Shulchan Oruch, raises the question: Why should the marbeh and the mam’it receive the same reward? If both do the mitzva with proper focus of serving HaShem, should not the person who does more receive a greater reward? This question of the Taz reflects the conventional reading of the text “Echad hamarbeh … “. That reading assumes, as a self- evident fact, that the person who does more must have greater merit than the person who does less.

The Sfas Emes reads the text very differently. In fact, one might say that he turns the text on its head. (To this the Sfas Emes might reply that he found the conventional reading of the text upside down, and therefore he had to set it right.) Thus, the Sfas Emes asks: Why should the one who does more receive the same reward as the person who does less? Both have achieved the same desired result, namely, to focus their attention on serving HaShem. But the one who does less has achieved this result more economically. Efficiently. By being more efficient, he has freed resources – – time and energy — that can be used for other tasks of Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chassodim. Therefore, shouldn’t he receive a greater reward?

The Sfas Emes uses a parable to clarify his message. The parable tells of two merchants from the same town, both of whom have to travel to the same destination. One merchant arrives there quickly; but the other merchant arrives only after long delay. When asked why he was so long in arriving, that merchant replied: After all, I finally reached the destination. Let’s not discuss my problems in getting here!”

That is, the person who invests the greater effort in achieving the objective who — rather than being lauded for his exertion — would be expected to explain himself. But now come the comforting words: ” Echad ha’marbeh…” telling us that the purpose of our actions is “… she’yecha’vein … da’ato lashamayim” (that we focus on our relationship with HaShem). Thus, provided we achieve the objective of the korban – to bring us closer to HaShem — it does not matter how much we have to strive to reach that objective.

You may find the logic of the Sfas Emes so persuasive that you end with the opposite question. Why does the ‘ inferior’ person (the one who expends more resources to reach the desired goal) get the same reward as the ‘superior’ person (the one gets the job done more efficiently)? The Sfas Emes’ parable — and his radical reading of “Echad ha’marbeh ” — focus our attention on the key take-home lesson: “U’bilvad she’yecha’vein da’ato…”


Note: In the year 5631 (1872), the first time that the Sfas Emes addressed Parshas Zachor as Gerrer Rebbe, Parshas Zachor coincided with Shabbos Vayikra. For this reason, the Sfas Emes began his ma’amar with remarks on Vayikra. Because our focus here is on Parshas Zachor, we will skip the Sfas Emes’s remarks on Vayikra, and go directly to the part of the ma’amar that discusses Zachor. You will find this at the top of the second column on the page.

Sfas Emes, zechuso tagein aleinu, Parshas Zachor 5632

This Shabbos we have a special, additional Torah reading, Parshas Zachor. That text (Devarim, 25: 17-19) teaches us the mitzva to remember to wipe out Amalek.

Clearly, the Torah views this as an extremely important mitzva, Thus, the tone with which the Torah tells us about this mitzva is unusually stark.. Likewise, this is one of the few Torah texts that we read in Shul twice in the course of a year — both on the Shabbos before Purim, and later in the year, as part of the regular cycle of Torah reading. Moreover, the reinforcement that comes with this doubled reading is in addition to an (almost) parallel text (Shemos, 17, 14-16). The pesukim there also speak of the importance of obliterating Amalek. Finally, to underline the importance of our remembering what we have to do, Parshas Zachor is the only Torah reading in the entire year which we are all obliged to hear — men and women — as a mitzva de’oraisa (a Commandment specified explicitly in the Torah).

With our heightened awareness of this mitzva’s special importance, let us see what the Sfas Emes says about me’chiyas (wiping out) Amalek. Before we begin that discussion, note some potential problems that arise when we attempt to deal with this mitzva.

A basic question: How do we go about performing this mitzva? That is, what do we have to do to fulfill our obligation of wiping out Amalek? How to perform this mitzva is especially unclear because of a special feature of this situation. Chazal tell us that Sancheriv, the Assyrian king, forced the many nations that he conquered to leave their homelands and settle elsewhere. As a result of these mass population movements, Chazal say, we can no longer identify the nations to which the Torah refers — e.g., Amalek — with the present-day inhabitants of the lands that bear those historic names.

One might suppose that because we can no longer know who is Amalek, this mitzva would lapse. Not so! Sefer HaChinuch tells us that this mitzva still applies. With our curiosity piqued by these questions, we proceed eagerly to the words of the Sfas Emes.

The Sfas Emes tells us: “Ve’ikar peirush ze’chira hi penimiyus ha’chiyus.” That is, the essence of zechira (from the root of Zachor)is a person”s inner vibrancy; that is, his inner consciousness and awareness. If zechira is awareness/consciousness, we can understand what the Torah means when it tells us to obliterate Amalek. The Sfas Emes makes this interpretation explicit. How do we ” wipe out Amalek? ” By living our lives in a state of awareness. Thus in the words of the Sfas Emes, obliterating Amalek means: never doing anything “derech ara’i” — i.e., in a casual, not thought- through manner.

The Sfas Emes has given us a radically new interpretation of the mitzva of wiping out Amalek. Unfortunately, he did not fully explain what led him to his startling conclusion. For lack of full information on how he arrived where he arrived, his interpretaion may seem arbitrary. To counter that (false) impression, I suggest some corroborative information that the Sfas Emes may have had in mind in reaching this interpretation.

The Torah tells us about the mitzva of wiping out Amalek in Devarim 25:17- 19. One posuk there says: “Ve’haya behani’ach HaShem Elokecha le’cha mi’kohl o’yevcha mi’saviv … timche … ” (ArtScroll: “When HaShem will give you rest from all of your enemies around you, wipe out … “) This pasuk is saying that we are to deal with Amalek at a time when we have no problems with the outside world. The implication is clear: Amalek is within us, presumably in our dei’os ra’os (reprehensible ideas.)

What might these reprehensible ideas be? In indicting Amalek, the Torah says about him: ” Who happened upon you (“asher korcha”) when you were on the road, after you left Egypt.” The key word here is “korcha.” In addition to its literal meaning (“happened upon you,”), this word is also rich in allusions. Thus, Chazal add: Amalek “cooled you off” (from the word “kor” — cold), lowering the intensity of your previously warm relationship with HaShem.

How did Amalek “cool us off?” By inducing us to think that the world is governed by “mikreh” (chance) rather than by hashgacha (Divine Providence). By contrast, we know that the letters of the word mikreh” (when written in Hebrew script) — i.e., MKRH — form the words: “rak mei’HaShem”. that is: “only from HaShem” — the very opposite of a world where chance rules.

Note further an allusion prompted by the gematria (i.e., the numerical value of the letters that form the word) of “Amalek.” The gematria turns out to be the same as the gematria of the letters that form the word “safeik” (doubt). Thus, we see what Chazal meant when they told us that Amalek “cooled off” our people . We see further why the Sfas Emes may have arrived at his powerful new interpretation of me’chiyas Amalek.

Moreover, the Sfas Emes is telling us that under the heading of “obliterating Amalek,” the Torah is advising us to avoid a serious danger to which we can easily fall prey. That danger is a mindset that sees life as a series of meaningless, random events. Indeed, this mindset attempts to plant a doubt in our minds as to whether life has any meaning or purpose at all. And even if this mindset concedes token adherence to a life of Torah, this mindset tells us to “be cool” — not to live that Torah life with warmth, intensity, and devotion.

Note how the Sfas Emes’s interpretation — do not live your life in a casual manner — fits in snugly with one of the themes of Purim. The English-language name for Purim is: “the Feast of Lots”. This name comes from the “lots” which Haman cast to determine the date of our annihilation. The more common Hebrew word for “lots” is “goral” — a word which has two meanings. ” Goral” can mean a random event, a purely chance happening. Also “goral” sometimes refers to unavoidable fate. In that sense, “goral” sees our lives as governed by arbitrary forces beyond our control.

Both of these meanings go strongly counter to our hashkofo(ideological perspective). A Torah perspective views our lives as governed by hashgocho peratis. This individualized Divine Providence, in turn,is susceptible to being influenced by our conduct. Thus the very name of Purim suggests (in a typically hidden fashion) two mindsets that the Sfas Emes has told us to eradicate by wiping out Amalek! Living our lives in constant awareness of HaShem — i.e., me’chiyas Amalek — will save us from those two all too prevalent dead ends.

Finally, recall the context within which these words are being said. The Sfas Emes is speaking to his Chassidim on Shabbos Zachor. In that context, he points out that Shabbos provides an excellent opportunity to think through how we are living our lives; and thus to fulfill the mitzva of “zachor.” How so? Because Shabbos is a time of menucha (repose); and repose is conducive to serious thought and introspection. Note further: the posuk in Devarim cited above (the posuk which commands us to obliterate Amalek), begins with the words “Vehaya behaniach”. We can read the word ‘behaNiaCH ” as coming from the same root as the word “meNuCha”, thus giving a special role for Shabbos Zachor in the Sfas Emes’s unique version of me’chiyas Amalek.


Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.

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