Of the seventy four mitzvos (Divine commands) recorded in this week's Torah
reading, three appear in the final three verses. "Remember what Amalek did
to you, on the way when you were leaving Egypt...It shall be that when G-d,
your L-rd, gives you rest from all your enemies all around, in the Land
that G-d your L-rd gives you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall
wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven - you shall not
forget." (Devarim/Deuteronomy 25:17,19). Because we are in an era which
does not have a Bais Hamikdash (Holy Temple in Jerusalem) and the Jewish
Nation is not living collectively in the Land of Israel, the central
mitzvah - that of wiping out the Amalekite nation - cannot be fulfilled.
What about the mitzvah of remembering? If the purpose of remembering is to
facilitate the command to annihilate, does that mean that remembering is
also not relevant at this time?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986; Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Mesivtha Tifereth
Jerusalem in New York City; the leading Halachic/Jewish legal decisor of
his time and one of the principal leaders of Torah Jewry through much of
the last century) clarifies that the obligation to remember is very much
incumbent upon us. We are obligated to remember the potential for evil
inherent in every human being. Medrash Tanchuma (Ki Seitzei 9) relates that
the Amalekites witnessed all that G-d did to extricate the Children of
Israel from the tyranny of Egyptian bondage, but with a passionate contempt
for G-d strove to demonstrate that the Jews were not invincible. G-d
allowed Amalek to succeed because of sins of the Jewish nation, and Amalek
knew that if they would succeed, the Jews would repent and avenge the
attack in battle. Nevertheless, they STILL assailed the Jews because of the
opportunity it offered to disgrace the Divine name. For this, the Medrash
compares Amalek to one who jumps into a tub of boiling water, knowing that
he will be severely burned, to merely succeed in cooling the waters within.
Such evil is latent in the souls of everyone.
It is easy for us to believe, warns Rabbi Feinstein, that such evil is only
in the hearts of the barbaric, that we must only concern ourselves with the
"fine tuning" of our interpersonal relationships and our service of G-d.
Not so. Seeing the descent of the Amalekites into such a spiritual abyss
must create a cognizance that it can happen to anyone. We, too, must focus
on our spiritual resolve in the areas of theft, murder and licentiousness.
He concludes that in the Neilah (Closing) service of Yom Kippur (Day of
Atonement) - in the waning moments of the holiest day of year, after
countless hours of prayer, confession and repentance - we STILL need to
implore that G-d grant us special assistance in "withdrawing our oppressive
hand". We are no less flesh and blood than Amalek and must never become
complacent in the scrupulous attention given to any mitzvah. As Hillel
taught, "Do not believe in yourself until the day you die." (Pirkei
Avos/Ethics of the Fathers 2:5) The Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) is a
The month of Elul that precedes Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) is a
time dedicated to introspection and taking spiritual inventory. While our
focus is continued growth and strength in our relationship with the Creator
of the Universe, we must appreciate that none of our past achievements are
securely "ours". But a tenet of the human experience is that life's
greatest pleasures - a thriving business, successful children, a strong
marriage - demand the greatest effort. The battle with the Yetzer Hara is
fierce and relentless, but the reward - the most sublime pleasure
available: a relationship with the Divine - could not be more worth it!
Have a good Shabbos!
Please forward your questions for Rabbi Avruch to
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