A malek, the age-old enemy of the Jewish People — where is he today? After all, we are obligated to fight him and his descendants to the death in every generation!
When we first encountered him in the Wilderness, he was easy to identify. Following their wondrous redemption from Egyptian bondage, Am Yisrael sang in Shiras Hayam: “Peoples heard, they trembled… the chieftains of Edom were alarmed…” Indeed, all the peoples trembled in fear and awe when they heard about the cataclysmic event: an enslaved, humiliated people going out to freedom amid miracles. Yet all those nations were still unable to fully grasp the meaning of this amazing geulah, and therefore they just stood by, dumbfounded and paralyzed. Only many generations later did they come out of their fossilized idolatry and recognize HaKadosh Baruch Hu, as belief in G?d took hold at last and gradually came to include most of humanity.
Amalek, however, saw it all clearly right from the beginning. This nation was completely deliberate in its intent to spoil the effect. Amalek understood that this nation of freed slaves was a major threat to the existing social order, a world based on masters and slaves. There was no such thing as liberated slaves — certainly not an entire nation of them! They had to be attacked and eliminated. The Midrash teaches that Amalek tried to recruit other nations to join them as allies in the war, but they refused.
We know what ended up happening. Amalek earned itself an eternal curse, obligating us to wipe out not only its presence, but all memory as well.
Amalek seized another opportunity to destroy us when he emerged in Shushan in the form of the wicked Haman, whom we know by tradition to be Amalek’s descendant. Like his venerable ancestor, his entire being was antithetical to the essence of Am Yisrael, and the two could never coexist peacefully under the same sky. And as we know, he ended up hanging on the gallows, and the Jewish calendar gained a holiday.
The third blatant appearance of Amalek came in the form of Hitler yemach shemo.
We have a tradition identifying Germany with Amalek. It is hinted in the Gemara, and a passage from the Vilna Gaon has often been cited as a possible support to this identification. But we do have interesting testimony on this matter dating from World War I. During one stage of the war, the German army occupied Poland. Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Cohen, one of Germany’s prominent Orthodox rabbanim, was appointed commissar on Jewish affairs in Poland by the occupying army.
In that capacity, Rabbi Cohen went to the town of Gur to meet with the Gerrer Rebbe of the time, the Imrei Emes ztz”l, and told him, “I ask of the Rebbe not to look at the fact that I am dressed in the uniform of the German army. Today, Germany is enjoying a time of chesed. But I would like the Rebbe to know that they are the seed of Amalek, mamash.” To make a statement like that in 1915, decades before the Nazi Party emerged, is an indication of the degree to which the tradition that identified Germany with Amalek was accepted.
Like his ancient predecessor, modern Amalek knew that there is no room in the world for both them and us. Amalek proclaimed that it intended “to liberate men from the loathsome and degrading idea of conscience. The Ten Commandments have lost their validity. Conscience is a Jewish invention. It is a blemish —like circumcision” (Rauschning, Conversations with Hitler). It is chilling to see the philosophy of the original Amalek, as brought in various midrashim, expressed so vividly just 80 years ago. And when Julius Streicher was led to the scaffold in Nuremberg on the day the ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged (there were 11, but Goering chose to take his own life as a more honorable death), he let the world know just how strongly the Nazis felt their link to their ancient prototypes: “Heil Hitler!” he shouted. “Purim- fest, 1946!”
That rasha knew that the war between his people and the Jews had deep spiritual roots, and that it was not yet over.
Indeed, it is not yet over. But if so, where is Amalek today? In Parshas Zachor we are clearly commanded, “Do not forget.” Does this simply mean that we must remember the historical event recorded in the Torah passage, without taking any action about it in the present? Or does Amalek represent a broader concept? Aside from the biological progeny of Amalek, is there an inimical spiritual force that reappears in every generation and that we are commanded to eradicate?
Yes, there is another level to the concept of Amalek. The Baal Shem Tov opened the way to great enlightenment on this subject with his statement that in gematria, the name Amalek is equal to safeik, doubt.
That brief remark from the Baal Shem Tov expands our understanding of what Amalek means for us. It teaches us that Amalek is the source of heresy. Casting doubt on the manifest truth is his essence. Amalek throws cold water on the warm fire of faith. This, of course, is the classic interpretation brought by Rashi on the words “asher korcha,” quoting Chazal: Amalek jumped in and “cooled off” the hot bathwater. By attacking the nation at Refidim, he showed the peoples of the world that they needn’t be so afraid, that Am Yisrael was not unassailable. He cast doubt on the idea — clearly proven though it was — that there was a supreme, all-powerful G-d that had taken this nation as His own.
And this Amalek, the essence of doubt, is with us today. It is all around us, and also within us. The Kedushas Levi writes that a person is obligated to wage war against the Amalek-essence inside himself and to eradicate it. The following commentary from Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh on how Amalek is manifested in today’s Western world is helpful for sharpening the ability to spot the enemy:
“The intellect is cold, the heart is warm. This terminology is no accident. Of Amalek, the Torah says, ‘korcha baderech.’ He aims to make us cold. He wants to replace the warmth of faith with the frost of kefirah. Amalek wears many masks today; in all these guises there is coldness. He is a science professor who wants us to think the world is cold and random. He is a programmer of computer games, who wants us to live in a cold, bogus virtual reality. He is a director of horror films that make our blood freeze; he is a rock singer wearing sunglasses to make him look cool. But all these disguises have one purpose: to lock our hearts in a deep-freeze and throw away the key.”
That encapsulates the essence of the big Amalekian lie that has the world enthralled. Every reader can likely add many more examples from his own experience and perceive how Amalek the Cooler casts his chilling influence on our society with his doubting and mockery of all that is sacred, while maintaining the pose of all-knowing intellectual superiority.
I’ve met many young graduates of our seminaries and yeshivos who have gone on to academic studies in order to qualify for professions, and I have seen how, without even realizing it, they’ve begun to cast some doubt on the principles they were raised to believe in. Not that they have abandoned their faith, chas v’chalilah, or that they’ve stopped living by the dictates of the Torah. But on a subtler level, one senses the “frost of kefirah” in the way they talk. It can show up as faint disdain for a saying of Chazal, put into their heads by some professor. They’ve been pushed into the gray area of doubt. Amalek has crept in and taken up residence in their hearts.
So yes, in the war against Amalek, we are on active combat duty, today as much as ever. It is a daily, ceaseless struggle. We have the weapon we need: firm Jewish faith, and we must share it with everyone who has lost their grip.