Guests’ Articles

Parashat Zachor and the Commandment to Destroy Amalek

Parashat Zachor, which is read on the Saturday before Purim, probably brings most of the modern audience into a certain discomfort. In this Parasha (Deuteronomy 25, verses 17-19), the people of Israel are commanded to remember and not to forget what Amalek did to them when they went out of Egypt, and after settling down in the promised land the people of Israel are commanded to destroy the memory of Amalek. This commandment has a special status in the Jewish tradition. The commandment itself has three parts – to remember, not to forget and destroy. Moreover, the commandment is read on a special Shabbat, there is an obligation to listen to it, and it has to be read from a scroll of Torah. However, the reading of the text, that to many of us reminds actual genocide, may cause real puzzle over the importance of the commandment and the necessity of reading it each and every year in a special ritual.

Due to the fact that I have always felt uncomfortable with the Parasha, a few years ago I decided to look closer into the essence of the commandment to destroy Amalek. What I have discovered was that the commandment of destroying Amalek, as understood in its ordinary way, is not a practical commandment. First, today there are no actual people that could be identified as “Amalek” and therefore this commandment could not be fulfilled in practice.

Second, the Rambam (Maimonides) in his book Mishne Torah (Hilchot Melachim, Chapter 11), writes that Israel may not go to war against a nation that keeps the seven Laws of Noah and accepts the peace offer from it. It is also clear from the Rambam that the people of Amalek are included in these provisions. Since the Laws of Noah are very essential to the existence of a society (commandments such as the prohibition of murder and having a system of courts), even if the Amalek people did exist as a society, they would probably follow these commandments.

Therefore, we see that this commandment on its surface is almost impossible to follow. So what do we make of it? How do we explain the fact that a commandment that consists of three parts and has a special Shabbat that it is read at probably is irrelevant at all?

My suggestion is to read the text of the Parasha more closely. The exact words of text are as follows:

17. Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt; 18. how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, all that were enfeebled in thy rear, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. 19. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget.”

From reading the text we can see that the Torah condemned the deed of Amalek so much because it attacked the people of Israel as they only left Egypt, and were (as modern scholars would probably call them) refugees. Moreover, Amalek chose to attack the people of Israel from the back – where the weakest members of society went. Therefore, I would suggest that the relevance of this Parasha to our days is that we, as society and as individuals, have to take care of the weakest members of society – the elder, the children and the refugees. A society that does not protect its weaker members is a society that, according to this reading, does not deserve to exist as a society. The importance of social justice is so big, that we are reminded of it, among others, by this very special Shabbat every year.

Was given in memory of my grandmother, Vera Naumenko z”l.

 

8 Responses to Guests’ Articles

  1. The above article was sent to us by Rivka-Vera Shikhelman, we would like to thank her for sharing her insight and for sending it to us as an opening article for our “Guest’s Article” Page.

    It seems right to say that “Dvar Torah” given in memory of our passed loved ones is the best way to remember them as well as the best Comfort for them to know that their children and grandchildren follow Torah Way and bring the Wisdom of Torah in this world.

    Thank you.

  2. THIS ARTICLE IS PUBLISHED WITH THE GENEORUS PERMISSION OF Bezalel – the grandson of HaRav Y. R. Rubin Shlita

    LET’S END THIS PAIN OF EXCLUSION

    It’s in the eyes, the sadness and the sense of despair. Young people, our children, excluded, lost, unwanted; their eyes tell it all. We talk about the problems, write long articles in all the right magazines, yet we don’t act, and so the pain grows with no sense of hope. You must ask yourself: where are the eyes, the eyes with the will to see?:

    http://theinformalproject.com/lets-end-this-pain-of-exclusion/

  3. Rivka-Vera Shikhelman says:

    Here are some interesting links:
    1. A musical Slichot prayer in Jerusalem:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WTI07etF7U
    2. “Hazmana le piyut” website – a project that collects tunes for “piyutim” from all over the world:
    http://www.piyut.org.il/
    3. An interesting Israeli documentary series about different shuls in Israel:
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLLttfoK87AdX3eFCPRzJPRAz3aNFNUlDY

  4. עדת אש קודש – מנצסטר
    בנשיאת מוה”ר י. ראובן רובין שליט”א
    Adass Aish Kodesh
    Prestwich – Manchester
    36 Bury Old Road

    The article is published with the generous permission of Rav Rubin’s grandson-
    Bezalel Schreibhand

    בס”ד

    Chasing Shadows
    By Harav Y R Rubin Shlita

    The setting is amazing: two young children stand in a forest clearing holding hands. Your eye is drawn to how they are dressed alike, the clothing “over the top” stylish and perfectly fitted. The young girl’s eyes sparkle, ringlets of red hair cascading out from under a unique (and pricey) woollen cap. The boy is dressed in a way that you just know that he has never worn such fancy togs in real life. The whole scene is just too perfect: there they stand, every part of their bodies positioned in a pose that isn’t natural. They straddle what looks to be a rural train track. The trees are redolent in the radiance of early winter foliage; the whole idyllic picture is just that, a picture, one created to conjure up an unreal place where kids don’t get dirty, and life is made for the exclusive purpose of spending gelt.
    This bit of marketing extravagance featured in a glossy pre Yom Tov magazine that is widely read by and exclusively geared for the Torah community. Its message was clear: buy this merchandise and life will be wondrous. Your kids will be a cut above just cute, and they will love you even more for dressing them up in designer gear at the tender age of five. I just have a few reservations about this. Since when do heimishe kinderlach need over the top schmatters to give them chein? What’s more, what message are we giving our young if they see that some frum media outlets idolize such excess?
    Allow me a few observations: Using the train tracks as a prop is certainly appropriate, because with such crazed slavishness to what’s new and trendy we as a community are certainly headed for a train crash. Then, the featured article in that particular magazine was about the crises of “entitlement”, and if this advertisement isn’t part of what is fueling said crises I don’t know what is.
    For the uninitiated, permit me to explain in a few words what the entitlement issue is. For a large swath of our community, especially so amongst the young, there seems to be a sense that everything that can be bought – indeed should be – and that everybody deserves all the gear they want. “Se kumpt mere” “it’s coming to me”, is a mantra heard in all too many homes. “What do you mean I can’t have the shiniest new gadget, Tatty? Everyone has it” – meaning at least one other spoiled brat. The mother of all temper tantrums usually comes from denying a youngster something “everyone else” has, no matter the cost or the need. This goes deeper than just childish fits. How about the young girl who has been taught that she deserves a top learner, one
    For more inspirational articles from the Rov Shlita please check out our website theinformalproject.com
    who comes with a hefty price tag? Tell her you can’t afford such a match and she very well may stamp her foot and cry out: “I hate you”!
    I touch not even the tip of the iceberg that is this problem, but I am sure you all catch the drift of my thinking. Torah homes have become the target of mass media marketing, creating more and more dissatisfaction with what one has and creating dissent at many levels.
    Walter Dill Scott published a book on advertising in 1903 called The Theory and Practice of Advertising. Interestingly, he asserted that people were highly suggestible and obedient. Scott wrote “Man has been called the reasoning animal but he could with greater truthfulness be called the creature of suggestion. He is reasonable, but he is to a greater extent suggestible”. 1903 was a long time ago, and already they knew. Dangle something before the public eye, and sooner or later the hapless soul will feel deprived without it. It is this over the top consumerism that drives so many young couples to fall foul of all financial constraints and overextend themselves with massive credit card debts that can never conceivably be paid back.
    Worse is the insipid rot that creates a void within one’s soul. More and more rubbish needed, so much stuff to buy; who has time for Hashem? Great tzaddikim of previous generations warned of the effects we are now witnessing. They warned of a time where externally we would be seeing Yiddishkeit become commercialized, whilst internally we would be empty.
    Rav Yonoson Gefen explains that the parsha of Noach ends with a very short account of the early life of Avrohom Ovinu. It outlines his family, including his brother, Haran, and how he met an untimely death. The Torah briefly tells us that Haran died in front of his father. The Medrash provides the background of this tragedy. It discusses how Avrohom rejected the rampant idol worship of his time and came to believe in Hashem. He destroyed the idols in his father, Terach’s store, and as a result, Terach handed him over to King Nimrod. Nimrod tried to force him to worship idols and when he refused, Nimrod had him thrown into a fire. Haran was an onlooker to all this and knew that he would be forced to side either with Avrohom or Nimrod. Before Avrohom was thrown into the fire, Haran took a very practical approach: if Avrohom would survive, then Haran would join him, but if he would die, then he would side with Nimrod. When Avrohom emerged unscathed from the fire, Haran accordingly declared his support for Avrohom. As a result, he was thrown into the fire and was killed.
    The Medrash points out that his death was somewhat unusual in that only his internal organs were destroyed, implying that his external body was left undamaged. What is the significance of this unusual death?
    The answer given is that on an external level Haran was righteous, in that he made himself out to be of the same ilk as Avrohom. However, internally he did not believe with complete sincerity.
    Accordingly, his internal organs were destroyed because they were lacking merit. However, his exterior was unharmed because it appeared righteous.
    For more inspirational articles from the Rov Shlita please check out our website theinformalproject.com
    This explanation provides us with an example of the principle that it is possible to observe the Torah on two different levels: internally or externally. Internal observance means that a person imbues himself with the attitudes espoused by the Torah; his outlook and life goals are solely defined by the Torah. External observance means that a person may observe all the mitzvos.
    However, his deep-seated desires and aspirations are not in tune with doing Hashem’s will. Instead, other factors drive him. All this “glossinisation” ( a new word I have just invented that hopefully speaks for itself) of our lives plays into the hands of the Yetzer Hora. His job is to cause us to become corroded from within. It matters little to his agenda if you want to be glatt kosher on your mad dash towards material excess, as long as you keep running and not thinking. He can allow us to pretend we are frum in our attire and our shtick, as long as our minds are awash with the dangling trinkets of the material world.
    Entitlement is just another tool in his arsenal of weapons, suggesting to our vulnerable neshomas that we are lacking. The emess is we lack only one thing: the solid realization that everything is in Hashem’s hands and nothing is missing.
    Perhaps it is time to organise an assifa -communal gathering- that will address some of these urgent matters. Let’s bring back the eternal truths of trust in Hashem’s ways now! Our young (and the not so young) need to be sensitized to what’s going on around them and be given the ability to see Hashem’s illumination beyond the glittering prizes of this material world.

  5. The following article written by Rabbi Y R Rubin Shlita from Manchester UK is posted with the permission of his grandson Bezalel Schreibhand

    The current Biala Rebbe in his sefer Mevaser Tov writes: “Just as we are obligated to believe in Hashem, in the holy Torah, and in the tzaddikim of each generation, we are also obligated to believe in ourselves. We must recognize the gifts we are granted and the great powers we have to influence the world, as part of our special segulah, as Am Yisroel. We are called a ‘Kingdom of noblemen and a holy nation. As Hashem’s holy nation, we have great power and great responsibility to influence and improve the world.”:

    http://theinformalproject.com/we-have-the-tools-to-pierce-the-darkness/

  6. The link to Adam Milstein’s article on

    Israeli-Americans Can Strengthen the Jewish People in the U.S. and …The Israeli-American community can form an army of activists who can stand up against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which isn’t just an issue for Israel or the Jewish community, but a threat to the future of America and all of Western society:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-milstein/israeli-americans-can-str_b_8914406.html

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