It’s not what you think, chazerim that you are!
This shabbis, in addition to reading the parsha –virtually all about the clothing and vestments worn by the koihanim and the koihen Godol (high priest) during their service, we will –to commemorate Parshas Zochor- also be remembering to eradicate the memory of Amolake, he the enemy combatant who attacked the Yiddin shortly after they left Mitzrayim.
And when Parshas Zochor rolls around, you know two things: Purim is one week away, and that Pesach is mamish around the corner. The eishes chayil reminds me that the local supermarkets already have kosher le’Pesach meats on display, shuls are offering matzo for sale, and panic is setting in for those making Pesach at home. Ober this year, panic is also setting in for others: for hotel operators experiencing cancelations by many afraid to fly, and by those who thought they were flying and are now contemplating last minute Pesach at home. Yikes! One thing is zicher: if you wear one of those surgical masks during the sedorim, you will eat less! Ober before they can properly internalize the havoc being wreaked by this new virus -with yet more cases being identified daily, yet one more thing manufactured and imported from China -what else is new- this coming week, we all need to focus on the unusual mitzvah –at least in our times- involving the remembrance, and then to wipe out the memory of Amolake.
So, we begin this week’s review –our tenth time around this parsha- with a letter from reader Jeff Weintraub who from somewhere in Baltimore MD sent this to the site two weeks ago.
A question that, quite frankly, I’m afraid to pose in our Shul.
We are commanded to erase the memory of Amolake from the face of the earth.. yet in our daily remembrances that we recite after shacharit, we mention this very command to erase Amolake’s memory. If we are to erase the memory of it, why even mention it daily to begin with?.. would it not have been better to simply remove all mentions of Amolake entirely, therefore erasing its memory as we were commanded?
Grada, Jeff asks a good question: how are we to eradicate the memory of Amolake if yearly we are commanded to do farkert; to remember him? What’s taka pshat? Are these concepts not mutually exclusive? Let’s begin. Who was this Amolake? What was his beef with the Yiddin? And with the RBSO? Before we attempt to answer Jeff, let us find out what Amolake did that was so egregious and girferlich? Guess what? The heylige Toirah does not tell us; all it tells us is this (Shmois 17: 8). “Then came Amolake, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.” The Amolakites harassed the Hebrews during their Exodus from Egypt and attacked them at Rephidim near Har Sinai where they were defeated by Yihoishuah. Amolake came and waged war with the Yiddin. That’s it? Wasn’t slavery by the hands of the Mitzrim for 210 years worse? Are we commanded to eradicate the remembrance of the Mitzrim? We are not! Farkert (opposite is true): we need to remember that they hosted us. The difference between these harsh commands and the attitude that the heylige Toirah (Devorim 23:8) displays toward Egypt is stark: “You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land”). But is the crime of having “cut down all the stragglers in your rear” (25:18) truly worse than the crime of “every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile”? Is it not simply the way of warfare to pinpoint and exploit the enemy’s weaknesses? Why is the Toirah so much more stringent in its response to a one-time incident that occurred in a military context than in its response to a long 200 yearperiod of enslavement, replete with mortar, bricks and cruel taskmasters? Moreover,didn’t the Yiddin both wage and have to defend themselves against other nations? What was it about Amolake? So many questions with more to come, let’s see if we can find an answer.
Nu, as you know from past Oisvorfer reviews, when the Toirah is radio silent, along comes medrish and other sources –in this case the medrish and also the heylige Gemora- and tells us azoy: The Amolakites raped, castrated and murdered the Jewish men (Sifrei, Tanchuma 10; Rashi – Devorim 25:17). Now we’re talking; now we chap what so angered the RBSO, not to mention the victims. Here were the Yiddin still frail from 210 years of slavery and but days after being freed, along comes Amolake and sexually abuses them? Attacks from behind? What’s pshat? Were they in the priesthood?
In any event, following Yehoishua’s defeat of Amolake in Refidim, the heylige Toirah narrates the RBSO’s response (Shemois 17:14-16): “And G-d said to Moishe: Write this for a remembrance in a book, and repeat it in Yehoishua’s ears, that I will surely wipe out the memory of Amolake from under the heavens. And Moishe built an altar… and he said, For G-d has sworn by His throne that He will be at war with Amolake from generation to generation.”
Those were mamish fighting words from the RBSO who was not very happy with the cowardly attack from the rear by Amolake and his army. The RBSO was particularly upset by the rear attack; grada, surprise rear attacks bother many, if you chap, and have caused all sorts of damage, physically and emotionally. The bottom line: so incensed was the RBSO that He Himself was going to take care of business, He was going to take on Amolake. Zicher we know that when the RBSO is angry, all hell can break loose.
Ober, later in Devorim (25:17-19) we have these two or maybe three new commandments. “Remember what Amolake did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt, how undeterred by the fear of G-d, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Lord your G-d grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your G-d is giving you as a hereditary portion, you should blot out the memory of Amolake from under heaven. Do not forget!
With these words, Moishe reveals details of Amolake’s attack; he attacked the Yiddin like a coward from behind. Moreover, with these words, the Yiddin were now involved in the Amolake war; we are to remember what he did, and to erase the memory of Amolake. What does “erase the memory of Amolake” mean? What’s pshat? Does it not contradict the obligation found two pisukim earlier to remember Amolake? And that’s precisely what reader Jeff was asking the heylige Oisvorfer to address.
We are to remember Amolakites every year? How did our sages of yore –specifically our rishoinim (early commentators) understand just what the RBSO wanted from us? How often does one have to remember “what Amolake did to you”? Let us then read what a few had to say before we go veyter.
Says the Rambam (Hilchois Milochim 5:5), azoy: It is a mitzvas ah-say (a positive commandment), to constantly remember their evil deeds and ambush, and to arouse hatred for them. Remember that word arousal, it will be further addressed below. As the verse states, “Remember what Amolake did to you.” According to tradition, we are to ‘remember’ with our mouths; ‘do not forget’ (v. 19)—in our hearts,” for it is forbidden to forget the hatred we have for them.
Says the Sefer Hachinuch: It is sufficient for us to remember the matter once a year, or once in two or three years If a person never mentioned it with his mouth once in his entire life, then he has transgressed mitzvah #603. As an aside, given the poor performance many of you have when it comes to obeying the RBSO’s commandments, you should seriously consider the observance of this particular mitzvah: show up to shul, listen to the reading and shoin, mitzvah performed. And says the Minchas Chinuch: Thus, according to the Sefer Hachinuch, it appears that mentioning what Amolake did once in a lifetime suffices.
Ober says the Shaloh: It is a great mitzvah to say these pisukim (verses 17-19) every day to fulfill the mitzvah to “remember” as specifically delineated in the heylige Toirah later in Devorim (Parshas Ki Seitzei). Every day? OMG!
Ok, let’s review: How often are we to remember and to forget him? The bottom line: depends on whom you ask and follow. As expected, and in line with all other mitzvos which require elucidation due to ambiguity, we find a range of opinions concerning how often the mitzvah of remembering Amolake needs to be carried out. The Chinuch suggests once a year, or even once in a lifetime would suffice. Ober the Shaloh recommends the verbal remembering of Amolake daily. And the Rambam states that the mitzvah is incumbent “constantly.”
Ober if you read posik 19 carefully you might ask azoy: do the instructions of 19 -also a specific mitzvah- which tells us to eradicate and forget Amolake’s name, render the mitzvah in 17 to remember him, conditional? Do we have to remember to eradicate Amolake’s memory only when the Yiddin are at peace? When the Yiddin are not surrounded by enemies? Does not the posik so specifically state? It does and let’s read it again: “When G‑d, your G‑d, gives you relief from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which G‑d, your G‑d, is giving to you…you must erase any reminder of Amolake.” Asks the Oisvorfer azoy: when was the last time, if ever, that the Yiddin had relief from “all” their enemies?” When was the last time –again, if ever- the Yiddin had peace in the land which G-d gave them? And the answer? Never! Is the mitzvah then dependent or independent of the specific instructions of 19? Moreover, is this mitzvah only incumbent when all the Yiddin are living in the Land of Israel, and in a state of peace? As the verse states explicitly: “When G‑d, your G‑d, gives you relief from “all” your surrounding enemies, “in the land” which G‑d, your G‑d, is giving to you…you must erase any reminder of Amolake.” And even moreover, if that’s at all logical or grammatically correct, we can ask azoy: has anyone seen an Amolakite in recent years? How about decades or generations? Where are we to find them and what to do then? Are they as a nation, not long gone and forgotten?
Shoin, what we know so far: Whoever this Amolake was, whatever he did, was seemingly repugnant enough that he gets shouted out twice in the heylige Toirah (not in a flattering way) and again –a big one- in the Novee where we read how King Shaul, the first king of Israel, was specifically commanded by Shmuel Hanovee (Shmuel I 15: 1-3) to fulfill this mitzvah. Let’s read the instructions. “… And now, go and smite Amolake and destroy everything that is theirs; do not have mercy on them, but kill every man and woman, child and infant, ox, sheep, camel and donkey.” Did Shaul listen? Not! Instead, he took pity on Agag, King of Amolake, and the best of the sheep and cattle. As a result, the RBSO took the kingdom away from him and gave it to Dovid. Nevertheless, the damage was done and because of Shaul’s weakness and compassion, many Amolakites survived, and continued harassing the Yiddin. A few years later, a band of Amolakites attacked Tziklag, where the families of Dovid and his men lived, burning down the city and taking all the women and children captive. We can imagine that the women were epesabused, efsher also attacked from the rear, if you chap. With the RBSO’s help, Dovid and his men managed to rescue the captives and vanquish the marauders.
Ober, as Dovid was not yet king and did not have the army of Israel at his disposal, he too was unable to eradicate them all. The Novee tells us (I Shmuel 30) azoy: four hundred youths rode on camels and escaped. Apparently, other groups of Amolakites survived elsewhere. Despite his efforts Dovid was unable to battle and destroy them all, even after he became king, because they were spread out far and wide. The bottom line: the Amolakites were seemingly alive and well back then.
Our Sages also tell us that because Shaul did not eliminate Agag, his seed was preserved. What’s pshat his seed was preserved? Seemingly, he impregnated a woman from his prison cell before being killed, you hear this? Amolake’s seed eventually resulted in the birth of Homon the Aggagite, who attempted to wipe out the Yiddin, so says the heylige Gemora (Megillah 13a). Hence, Amolake, Homon, and the entire story of Purim are inextricably linked and we read of Amolake’s initial attack on the Yiddin as described in Bishalach, on Purim day. We will read from Parshas Ki Saytzei where the RBSO retells the story Amolake this shabbis, Parshas Zochor. Shoin, that concludes our shtikel Novee class.
Ober who was the first Amolake and from whose seed was he birthed? What was his beef with the Yiddin? Why the hatred? Shoin, let’s go back to Sefer Bereishis where Yaakov and Eisav were born. Eisav had a son by the name of Eliphaz. Avada you all recall Eisav, Yaakov’s twin brother who never got over his hatred for brother Yaakov. Though they made some form of peace which involved hugging, kissing, and a nice gift from Yaakov to his older brother, in his heart, Eisav’s hated remained –seemingly forever. Our sages tell us that Eisav is forever an enemy of Yaakov. In any event, Eliphaz had a concubine by the name of Timna whom he impregnated. She had a child named Amolake who seemingly grew up in Eisav’s household, imbibing Eisav’s pathological hatred of Yaakov and his descendants. Mamish? Let’s quickly read the posik from the heylige Toirah (Bereishis 36:12) where Timna is introduced. “Timna was a concubine to Eliphaz, son of Eisav, and she bore Amolake to Eliphaz.”His offspring became the nation of Amolake, and they lived to the south of the Land of Israel. Says the medrish: when Eisav was older, he called his grandson Amolake and said azoy: Amolake my beloved grandson, I tried to killing Yaakov but was unsuccessful. Now I am entrusting you and your descendants with the important mission of annihilating Yaakov’s descendants – the Jewish people. Please carry out this deed for me. Be relentless and do not show mercy. Is that how it all happened, ver veyst, ober so our sages wove the story together. Es ken zeyn (could be).
By piecing together various opinions in the heylige Gemora and medroshim who weigh in on Amolake -there are many- an image of Amolake and his people emerges. They were a tribe that did not engage in agriculture and industry, but rather, trained its youth to conduct surprise attacks against villages and convoys – to kill those they encountered, plunder their belongings, and sell the men, women and children who remained as slaves. It was difficult to wage war against them because they did not have a permanent base, and would suddenly and unexpectedly appear with large attacking forces. Back in Riphidim, Yehoishua, working with Moishe at his side, fought and weakened them; it was clear however that this would not be the last battle with the Amolakites. Medrish tells us that whenever Amolake perceived signs of weakness, they would attack, kill, loot, and sit in wait for the next assault. The heylige Gemora tells why the RBSO was so angry and unforgiving towards Amolake. The language of the verse “[Amolake] happened (korcha) upon you…” hints to his transgression: The Hebrew word korcha is related to the word kar, meaning “cold.” That is to say azoy: Amolake cooled the Yiddin off. Mamish days after the Yiddin came out of Mitzrayim and when all the nations of goyim were spellbound by the RBSO’s miracles, the Yiddin were hot and all in! No other nation dared challenging the RBSO. Ober Amolake showed chutzpah, he came and did battle. Though he was defeated militarily – his surprise attack paved the way for others. The result was a dramatic cool down of the enthusiasm and total belief the Yiddin had in the RBSO.
Back in parshas Bishalach when first introduced to Amolake, the posik begins with these two words, “then came Amolake.” Shoin, since these words left us wondering who he was, where he came from, and what the purpose of his coming was, several exegetes of the Medrish chimed in with various thoughts; let’s read what a few had to say.
Pesikta deRav Kahana 3: Reb Yihoishua ben Levi said in the name of Reb Alexandri: One verse says thou, [Israel], shalt blot out the remembrance of Amolake (Devorim 25:19); and another verse quotes G-d as saying I will blot out the remembrance of Amolake (Shmois 17:14). How are the two verses to be reconciled? Before Amolake put forth his hand against G-d’s throne, Scripture said that thou, [Israel], art to blot out the remembrance of Amolake. After Amolake had put forth his hand against G-d’s throne, G-d is quoted as saying I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amolake (Exod. 17:4). But is it possible for flesh-and-blood to put forth a hand against the throne of the Holy One? Yes, since by “G-d’s throne,” Jerusalem is meant. And because Amolake was to rise up to destroy Yirusholayim of which it is written at that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord (Jer. 3:17), G-d said: I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amolake from under heaven (Shmois 17:14). The bottom line: this medrish compares and contrasts the pisukim in Shmois with the passage in Devorim and tries to reconcile them by giving the conflicting verses separate meaning. In the process, this medrish gives us a whole new perspective on Amolake’s transgression; a bad guy he was.
In the Pisikta of Rav Kahana -another medrish- we find this: Reb Levi said in the name of Reb Hama bar Reb Chanina: The name of the Lord will not be complete, and the throne of the Lord will not be whole as long as Amolake’s seed endures in the world; but when Amolake’s seed perishes from the world, the Name will be complete and the throne will be whole.
Was Amolake the first anti-Semite? Perhaps and zicher he so behaved. He was the first to attack the Yiddin immediately after they left Mitzrayim, perhaps in order to prevent them from receiving the heylige Toirah, and becoming the RBSO’s chosen people. Efsher for those reasons, Amolake is the nation that embodies the root of evil and also efsher why the RBSO so abhors him.
Ober, how are we to identify Amolake today? Is there a nation known as Amolake? Not! The precise identity of the many nations (including Amolake) has been long confused. Why? Because over the centuries, entire nations of people were dispersed; how then are we to remember to eradicate Amolake in our times? DNA testing? Are we to seek out the descendants of the original nation of Amolake and wipe them out? Is that possible?Recall that according to the Rambam, the mitzvis associated with Amolake apply to all generations; the mitzvah to remember is listed as one of the 613 commandments. It’s mitzva #188 in his Sefer Ha-Mitzvis, and mitzvah #604 in the Sefer Ha-Chinuch. And says the Rambam, azoy: the reason we are required to “remember what Amolake did” is “to verbally arouse people to fight them,” whatever that means. Verbal arousal? Sounds epes a shtikel sensuous. Isn’t verbal arousal employed before attempting to enter another battlefield, if you chap? Is verbal arousal also a mitzvah? By way of example he adds, we are to be verbally aroused to perform the mitzvah of eradicating Amolake. Ober, if we are no longer able to carry out the mitzvah of “eradicating,” why is the mitzvah of “remembering” still required? Are we still required to become verbally aroused?
It appears azoy: the mitzva is not applicable today, since the nation of Amolake no longer exists. What happened to them? Says the heylige Gemora (Brochis 28a): Sennacherib, the King of Assyria (circa 500 BCE), mixed up all the nations. When conquering a country, in order to maintain control, he would take a large segment of the population and send them to other countries. These people intermarried with each other and their nationalities became mixed. The Amolakites too were mixed with other nations. The bottom line: the identification of a particular individual, or group as Amolake by the means of genealogy is absolutely impossible. Are we in our times then exempt from this mitzvah? Not! We remain obligated to study and understand it. Seemingly, we are still obligated to get verbally aroused, Nu, arousal is always good.
Ober what to do about the mitzvis associated with Amolake? Some suggest that Amolake -in our times- can be understood as the evil within us, as individuals and as a people. In other words, it’s a behavioral issue. We have to be mindful of this side of ourselves and attempt to “blot it out” as much as possible. Seemingly, our evil inclination is Amolake. Others suggest azoy: the prevalent solution to the problem of not having an Amolake nation to destroy and eradicate is to treat the mitzva as a war of ideas, rather than the extermination of a specific nation. Which means what? Amolake is no more than a symbol, such that the war with Amolake is merely a metaphor for the eternal battle to defeat evil or heresy. The war with Amolake in our times is but symbolic. That being said, we are not to ignore its literal and concrete meaning.
The final bottom line: it’s taka emes that in our times, Amolake does not exist, ober Amolakite behavior exists and must be confronted. Every generation has at least one, usually many who wreak havoc and try to cool the Jews down. Others try killing us. Amolake exists in others who act as did he, sadly, even amongst our own. Many communities have individuals who act as did Amolake. Ober, in our times, we are not equipped to identify any specific individual or nation as Amolake. Said Reb Moishe Feinstein, OBM azoy: the mitzvah is to remember what Amolake did, and to eradicate the trait they displayed of acting cruel and presumptuously against G-d in the face of all reason. Whether or not, all this answers Jeff’s questions, ver veyst?
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv