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Remember Amalek

Remember Amalek

A lesson on Divine Providence in memory of the fallen Torah students of Mercaz HaRav, hy"d.


I was in my rabbinical class finishing the evening prayers as the sounds of automatic gunfire rang out through the Yeshiva. We were in the classroom above the Library which turned out to be the killer's target. As we lay on the floor, bracing furniture against the doors, we could only imagine the horror he was wreaking in the rest of the Yeshiva. We were unarmed and could only wait and pray that help arrive as soon as possible. We called the police, but it was only thanks to a man named Dadon and an off-duty officer named Shapira who neutralized the killer. When the security forces finally arrived, they searched the building and found us sitting on the floor in the dark.

As they whisked us out of the building, we gained a first hand glimpse of the horror the killer had wrought. We were spared only because we were delayed in finding a tenth man to make our minyan. Had we finished praying one minute earlier we would have found ourselves in the path of the killer.

As I was driven home by my daughters, the gnawing question of why bad things happen to good people was now magnified by the fact that murder was perpetrated against young Torah students learning Torah in a Torah Academy. I offer this essay as an attempt to come to grips with this dilemma.

"The Torah is a tree of life to those who grasp hold of it." And yet eight Torah students, learning Torah in a Torah Academy, were mercilessly gunned down by a raging beast called Amalek.

How can we reconcile the special Divine providence extended to those "grasping hold" the Torah, with the bloody reality to which we bear painful witness? The answer lies in the date of the attack: Rosh Chodesh Adar.

Rosh Chodesh is a time of joy in that the new moon symbolizes renewal and rejuvenation. Yet it is also a time when the moon is not visible, and consequently, is a time of darkness symbolizing evil.

Adar is a month of great joy for we celebrate the victory of good over evil. Yet it is also a month of fasting over the evil designs of Amalek. Indeed it is in this month that we remember Amalek by reading the "zachor" Torah portion. We remember that "God's war against Amalek is from generation to generation."

The ability to exercise a choice between good and evil demands the existence of evil and by extension, people who purvey that evil.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the battle against Amalek is really a battle over whether Man will obey God or the dictates of his own rationale. Man expresses his freewill by deciding to act either according to his own definitions of right and wrong, which devolve to his own "might and power," or according to God's definition of morality.

The ability to exercise a choice between good and evil demands the existence of evil and by extension, people who purvey that evil. Those people are known as Amalek. And though Amalek was a specific people, the verse commanding their destruction states: "blot out the memory of Amalek". Consequently, Hirsch explains that the memory of Amalek, of people who glorify the sword, must be blotted out. For as long as their memory is glorified others will follow the path of evil and reject the path of morality.

Although evil, necessary for freewill, is part and parcel of Creation, it is seemingly nevertheless a stain on a loving God who wants only good for his creations. So much so that God, as it were, offers a "sin offering" as atonement on none other than Rosh Chodesh, when light is diminished and evil reigns supreme. God can do little more than offer a sacrifice in atonement, lest he remove from Man the very task He entrusted to him: to be a partner in creation, to complete creation, through his own efforts.

Nowhere is this paradigm of existence more pronounced than in the story of Ester read on Purim. The Megilla tells of Amalek's plan to annihilate Israel where he obtains the King's seal on a decree to that end. The Jews fast and pray that Esther's efforts to annul the decree succeed. However they are told, "The decree of the King cannot be annulled." Since when can't a king issue an annulment?! The answer is that this refers to not just any king, but the King of Kings. The decree that cannot be annulled is God's decree of Creation, the decree of freewill, the decree that evil must have free reign.

The Jews obtained only the permission to fight back -- this was God's answer to their fasting and prayers.

The Jews obtained only the permission to fight back -- this was God's answer to their fasting and prayers. And as they fought evil, so too must we. Real evil will not go away with appeasement and peace negotiations.

The Megilla ends with the celebration of the victory of the Jews. We rejoice however, not at our own strength, realizing that victory would be for naught without God's hidden help. Indeed it is this knowledge, that God works behind the scenes to guarantee our success, which is the source of our joy.

It is only the guaranteed assistance of the Creator that can explain Israel's continued existence in the face of evil perpetrated by the Amaleks of the world. But that guarantee extends only to the nation as a whole and not to individuals. No individual can confidently assume a protected existence - not even a Torah scholar, learning Torah, in a Torah academy.

So what of the promise that "grasping" the Torah offers special Divine providence? Perhaps, though the Torah does provide a path to righteousness and life in general, there are times that are beyond man's comprehension. At such times we must lament: "Difficult is the death of the righteous in the eyes of God."

As such, the Zohar provides a succinct theological response in the form of prudent advice: "A man should not confidently affirm - God will deliver me or will do for me this or that - but rather he should endeavor to fulfill the precepts, walk the path of truth, and put trust in Him that He will help."

And thus we fight Amalek. A fight for the perfection of the world. It is a fight man wages internally, striving to fulfill God's will. It is also a fight man wages against those who wield "might and power" to avoid carrying out God's will.

The victory of this fight is embodied in the Holy Temple, symbolizing God's dwelling amongst mankind upon acceptance of His will. In the Megilla, Haman sought to derail the building of the Temple. Today, Amalek attacked our small Holy Temple, the Yeshiva, center of Torah learning, whose purpose is to bring God's will, God's peace, to mankind.

And so it was on Rosh Chodesh Adar, a time of good mixed with evil, that our rejoicing was mixed with tears. We cry bitterly over the loss of our holy Torah students at the hands of Amalek. But we rejoice in the Divine promise that no matter what designs the evil Amaleks of the world will conspire, they will never destroy the nation of Israel. In the words of Haftarat Zachor: "Netzah Yisrael Lo Yishaker" -- The eternity of the people of Israel is guaranteed by God.

March 12, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 25

(25) Ezza Amittai, February 26, 2009 10:16 AM

Who am I to judge?

Torah has Orah in it, light. Pesach aceman, I agree that Hashem's light is always there. Sometimes, like the sun, it's clouded over, and each person has a different reason for the clouding. Those beloved Yeshiva scholars went to G-d with the Holy Words in their minds and on their lips. Sure, that does not dispel the grief of their loved ones, or the shock we tend to live with in every generation. My brother was killed 9 years ago (bless his memory) and I was so angry with G-d. Two years of confusion and grief went by, and I hardly prayed except the regular Shabbos, mealtime prayers etc, but no personal ones. I was not speaking to G-d. Then one day I entered into a prayer/dialogue with Him and a miracle occurred. I will write about that miracle some other time, but it instigated my first private conversation with Him after 2 years. I said "I am so angry that You didn't save my brother." A quiet truth rang in my soul when I heard the awesome words "You don't know what SAVED is. I do." With those simple words I was humbled back into love with G-d. It's true, that just because G-d did not perform actions that conformed to MY EXACT NOTION of what He should have done for my brother, that doesn't mean He didn't SAVE my brother, Brendan. Brendan is in the Shekinah, safely and happily in HaShem's presence. We tend to think that dying is the worst thing that can happen, but as I was told in my heart "There are many things I don't know about, that G-d does." Who am I to judge? I take hold of Psalm 23: "The L-rd is my Shepherd, I shall not cup overflows...Surely Goodness and Mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the House of the L-rd forever." And thus I have to leave the 'incomprehensible' to the Great Knower. May G-d bless all of B'nei Yisroel, and also B'nei Noach. Shalom

(24) Anonymous, February 24, 2009 10:29 PM

I don''t think he is suggesting that evil is its own entity of which G-d doesn''t have control over. I think he''s simply suggesting that evil is needed for us to have Free Choice. That as much as Hashem might not want to have evil in the world, He must make it an option in order for us to not choose evil and learn from it

(23) Yoni Kayman, February 24, 2009 6:04 AM

"Peace on Earth"

Once after a speech from our beloved Rosh Yeshiva zt"l where he spoke of his lofty desires to fix the world- tikun olam a student approached the rosh yeshiva on this issue of amalek. The student was wondering how it is possible to reconcile the concept of tikun olam and pursuing peace alongside the fighting and blotting out of amalek. The Rosh Yeshiva always talked of uplifting the whole world and never stopped with fixing the Jewish Nation exclusively. The Rosh Yeshiva unexpectedly answered the following "if we have to kill amalek we failed in our job" Afterward I found it in the ramba"m melachim chapter 7 or so. Ramba"m says we extend our hand in peace to amalek as well and ask them to accept our values. The rosh yeshiva is the only one I ever heard that was real with that concept!!

(22) pesach aceman, March 23, 2008 12:06 AM

connection of Egyptian slavery, Purim, Expulsion from Spain and Shoa and Evil

I personally do not believe as you have said that evil was created. I believe it is the abscence of exercising our free will = our ability to choose. When we do not choose then Hashem will force us to choose one way or another. The loss of 8 young innocent men from clal Yisrael is but the latest chapter which includes many murdered innocents. Yet we do not learn nor exercise that command to blot out Amalek first from OUR midst and then from the midst of the world around us (also a choce by others to follow our lead). Loss of light with the new moor smacks to me of superstition for AT ALL TIMES IS THE LIGHT OF HASHEM PRESENT. We have to but open our eyes and our hearts to the light within each and everyone of us and then we CHHOSE to see the light. The yerida to Mitzrayim was for a reason but those who left Eretz forgot the reasons. they did not choose properly and so we went eventually into slavery (even though predicted by Hashem it is REVERSIBLE as many of his edicts have been - see the Torah) We forgot about the HOLY LAND (not in the way the world protrays this land but as ERETZ KADOSH). So too at Purim the Land was devoid for the most part of Jews including Mordechai who did not return after the miraculous reversal of the king's decision to wipe us out (at least to allow us to defend ourselves: his edict was not reversible simply because of his ego: again see how many times in the Torah Hashem has reversed his edicts for good or not for the good). So too in Spain which became the pinnacle of Jeiwsh learning and the relations with our Arab cousins. Then the Shoa in which German/Polish Jewry thought this was the pinnacle of learning but there too the talmedim were wiped out. Now (my fear) America sees itself as the center of Torah learning and will American Jews also be taught a lesson G-d forbid? So much of what happens to us (called evil) is from not choosing or what is chosen is not pleasing to Hashem as it does not follow his edicts and paths of morality and living a 'good' life of honesty and truth in our relations to Hashem, man and the Land. We too in Israel need to learn and so we go (most recently) from Gush Katif to Amona to the murder of young talmudim. We shed tears but do we learn? This is a lesson for each individual and for the Nation as a whole. There is no darkness, only when one shuts one's eyes to the light that is ALWAYS THERE! The latest of such signs and warnings is what happened and maybe it was on Rosh Hodesh Adar for a reason! We are very moralistic in regards to our present day Amalek in not wanting to harm civilians but why do we not apply that same morality between oursleves instead of the infighting that exists between religious sects, between secular/observant, between husband and wife and parents and children. We can only carry on the hypocrasiy so long before Hashem again will send his message one way or another. I apologize for the length of this comment, but we must read it right.

(21) mike smith, March 19, 2008 6:30 PM

great article

How I can trust in G-D if you write that the individual is never protected?

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