Shlomo Hamelech speaks of an eis lisno — a time to hate, and we Jews are now in ours — to hate Amalek
“If there is one overriding emotion gripping Ukraine right now, it is hate,” the New York Times reports. “It is a deep, seething bitterness for President Vladimir V. Putin, his military and his government…. The hatred is vented by mothers in bomb shelters, by volunteers preparing to fight on the front lines, by intellectuals, and by artists.”
The piece continues: “Olha Koba, a psychologist in Kyiv, said that ‘anger and hate in this situation is a normal reaction and important to validate.’ But it is important to channel it into something useful, she said, such as making incendiary bombs out of empty bottles.”
Shlomo Hamelech speaks of an eis lisno — a time to hate, and we Jews are now in ours — to hate Amalek. Then again, from the words of the Rambam it would seem that it’s always in season to feel hate for Amalek, which we then “channel into something useful” by having it motivate us to fulfill the mitzvah to eradicate Amalek. Discussing the mitzvah of zechiras maaseh Amalek — to remember that which Amalek did to us, he writes (Sefer Hamitzvos, Mitzvas Asei 189) that its goal is to “awaken the souls with words to fight him and to spur the nation to hate him so that the mitzvah won’t be forgotten and the hatred of him won’t weaken and deplete over time.”
Nowadays, when we can’t literally fulfill the mitzvah to eradicate Amalek by, for example, making bombs out of empty bottles, we are still encouraged to hate him. But this very week, Jews the world over have had an opportunity to channel that hatred into something useful, by making empty bottles out of full ones.
Interestingly, the Torah speaks of a mitzvah to remember what Amalek did to us and another mitzvah to wipe out every trace of that nation, but nowhere does it state a specific commandment to hate Amalek. Yet, it’s clear from the Rambam that such hatred is indeed appropriate and desirable; it is, as he writes, what underlies the mitzvah of zechiras maaseh Amalek.
Perhaps the explanation is that our hatred for Amalek is rooted in the loathing a Jew is supposed to have for all evil and evildoers. “Lovers of Hashem, hate evil,” said Dovid Hamelech (Tehillim 97:10). And of those who hate Hashem, Dovid said, “I hate them in the extreme” (Tehillim 139:22). Hating Amalek, then, is not a separate commandment, but a form of the righteous hatred we’re supposed to keep alive always.
Nor, for that matter, does hatred of evil and its perpetrators in general need to be commanded. From those verses in Tehillim it seems to emerge that the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem is sufficient, and once we truly feel that love for Him, hatred of those who oppose Him and His Will should follow as a matter of course.
Our hatred of Amalek is not just something we’re supposed to feel, but to act upon as well. Our job is to drive Amalek from the world. That’s because the nation of Amalek is not merely a conglomeration of evil people and haters of G-d, but the apotheosis of evil. It consists of irredeemable wickedness for which there can be no rehabilitation, only eradication.
Rav Dovid Soloveitchik ztz”l cited the Gemara in Gittin (56b) that describes how Bilaam the rasha, even as he suffers the unimaginable torments of Gehinnom and even as he concedes the Jews’ favored status in that eternal world, continues to be consumed with hatred. That, Reb Dovid observed, is because wickedness can become an inalienable part of a person, to the point that even upon entering a world of absolute truth, he cannot shed that deeply internalized evil.
That form of deep-bred evil describes the Amalekites, too. They are called not chot’im — sinners, but chata’im (see Shmuel I 15:18). That latter term can mean sins, of course, but it also can refer to a particular category of sinners, those of an engrained, irredeemable sort, who merge to become one with their sins, as it were. This is why Chazal teach that Hashem swore that members of Amalek, alone among the nations, will not be accepted as converts.
There is a way, however, for even Amalek to escape its destined fate. Before waging war against another nation, a Jewish army is required to extend it a peace offer, and the Rambam (Melachim 6:4) rules that this applies to Amalek too. The offer stipulates acceptance of the seven mitzvos of Bnei Noach and subservience to the Jewish Nation by doing menial labor and paying tribute.
But how can it be that Amalekites are disqualified from conversion to become full-fledged Jews, yet still retain the option to avoid the fate of death the Torah prescribes for them by merely adopting the Noahide laws? Logic would seem to dictate the opposite, with conversion to Judaism being the pathway to life that mere adoption of Noahide status is not.
The Avnei Nezer of Sochatchov (Orach Chayim 508) raises this difficulty, and his answer sheds a brilliant new light on the inner workings of Amalek. He begins by citing a Tanna D’bei Eliyahu that relates that Eisav’s son Eliphaz told his son Amalek (Eisav’s grandson), “The World to Come is reserved for the Jewish People. Assist them by digging ditches for them and the like and you, too, can merit that reward alongside them.” When Amalek heard that the only way to merit Olam Haba is to subjugate himself to the Jews, he became their greatest enemy and pursuer. At that pivotal moment, the demon-nation of Amalek was born.
His father’s advice to humble himself before Klal Yisrael was the spark that kindled the bonfire of visceral Jew-hatred that has ever since burned in Amalek’s belly. For Amalek, the arch-moral anarchist, to humble himself before G-d or the Jews, who represent Him in This World, is anathema.
This, the Avnei Nezer concludes, is why acceptance of the seven Noahide laws can spare an Amalekite where full conversion cannot. Were he to be allowed to become a Jew, there would still be a risk that his inner Amaleki remains intact. He is now, after all, a sheineh Yid (albeit with a considerable skeleton in his closet), who needs not feel less than any other Jew. He hasn’t experienced a humbling that might succeed in transforming him internally, and so, if he sees some quality in another Jew that he doesn’t have, he might well become that Jew’s sworn enemy and pursuer. When he accepts the seven mitzvos Bnei Noach and subservience to the Jewish People, the humility he must summon to accept that status can bring about within him a redemptive transformation.
The Sochatchover seems to be telling us that it’s conceivable for someone to live the lifestyle of a frum Jew, to appear to all the world as an erlich Yid in how he walks and talks and eats and dresses, and yet it’s all largely a Purim costume. Deep within, he remains a raging moral anarchist, an enemy of G-d. Only the bowing of the head and the humbling of the heart can root out that evil from deep within.
The Purim seudah is a time for constructively channeling our Amalek-hatred, one bottle at a time. But what the Avnei Nezer’s words convey about the human condition — and the work it takes to uproot the evil that lies beneath the righteous exterior — might just be enough to scare even a non-Amaleki sober.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 903. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at email@example.com)
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