Talmidav Shel Aharon
7-5768: Mitzvah 76-77
December 4, 2007
Mitzvah 76 – It is a positive commandment to remember the action that Amalek took against us.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “Remember what Amalek did to you ” (Deut. 25:17This means to remember orally, in spoken words, his evil deeds and his ambush against us, so as to bestir our heart to hate him. It applies everywhere and in every time for both men and women.
Mitzvah 77 – It is a positive commandment to decimate the descendants of Amalek.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “You shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek. (Deut. 25:19) However, we do not know who are the people of Amalek, until the prophet Elijah will come and inform us who they are; and then we will wipe out all remembrance of him from under heaven. May Hashem grant us to see the arrival of Elijah the Prophet and our righteous Messiah speedily in our time; Amen
All the positive commandments in effect at the present time have been completed, their number being seventy-seven.
And so the last two positive commandments are perhaps the simplest and the most difficult at the same time.
Who is Amalek? According to the Torah, the people of Israel fresh from their salvation at the Red Sea are crossing the desert on their way to Mt. Sinai and the Promised Land. Suddenly, the Amalekites attack our people without warning. According to Deuteronomy, they attacked from the rear, where the weakest and the stragglers could be found. Our people stand their ground and counter-attack and rout the Amalekites in a daylong battle. Moses then teaches that because they attacked in such a cowardly manner against the people blessed by G-d, G-d has ordained that the Israelites should remember that Amalekites must be destroyed once and for all, and none of them shall remain.
In the book of Samuel, it is recorded that the first Israelite king, Saul, is commanded to finish this work. It is to be a complete destruction; nothing of the Amalekites shall remain. Saul does part of the job, the men, women and children of the Amalekites are killed but he keeps the King alive and brings back the cattle for an offering to G-d. G-d is so angry that Samuel is to tell Saul that since he has disobeyed the commandment of G-d, then he will lose his kingship to someone else. From that moment on, it is all downhill for Saul.
One would think that if Saul did such a good job, than why would this Mitzvah still be on the books. According to the Rabbis of the Talmud, before the king of Amalek was killed by Samuel, he had a chance to impregnate one more woman. From this union descends every person who has ever hated Jews. Of course we can not prove this so we wait for Elijah, who will come just before the Messiah and let us know who needs to be killed to, once and for all, wipe the people of Amalek off the face of the earth.
Let us be clear. We have no idea who the descendants of Amalek are today so we have no right to kill anyone. That being said, we still have the stain of Genocide that needs to be addressed. As a people who have been slaughtered, men women and children, in genocide, it is hard to imagine that we are commanded by G-d to turn and do this to some other people. It is hard to contemplate a good G-d who would command such an action. It is hard to see this as a religious obligation that falls on our shoulders.
I can offer two answers to these questions. First, it is not right to put modern theology on ancient stories. Amalek and Israel were mortal enemies. Israel got the upper hand and wiped them out. That was war in ancient times and it is not the rules we fight under today. Jews have called many anti-Semites “Amalek” over the centuries, but we never again committed an act of genocide to complete this task. The Sages of the Talmud understood that there would always be people who hate us so they kept on the books the duty to remember those who have a senseless hatred of the Jewish people and to work to end their prominence in the world.
Second, that we must continue our work to end this kind of senseless hatred by remembering that, when those who hate us got the opportunity, they killed the innocent of our people, the weak and the stragglers. Such people do not deserve mercy but should be hunted down. We must not overlook their acts of terror and retaliate when the time is right, and never forget our duty to avenge these barbaric acts. We must not kill women and children and innocent bystanders anymore, but those who actively hate and kill, must be neutralized so they can no longer hurt us. It is a matter self-preservation. If we are worried about future generations of Amalekites, than we must wait for Elijah to show us who these haters are so we can deal with them appropriately. In this way Judaism addresses this kind of deep evil and attempts to root it out of Jewish life.
Finally, we come to the end of the positive commandments. Next we will begin, with G-d’s help, to explain the negative commandments. Perhaps, because of our studies, we will be privileged to see the arrival of the Messiah and the beginning of an era with no more war and bloodshed.