Tetzaveh 5773 – Gilayon #788
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Parshat Tetzave – Shabbat Zachor
A perpetual burnt offering for your generations
at the entrance
to the tent of meeting before the lord,
Where i shall meet with you there to speak to you.
And i shall meet there with the israelites
and it shall be
consecrated through my glory
There – In
the place where rests the testimony of His Torah, there will God meet with us,
there he awaits us. If we look forward to God's meeting with us, we must
approach with a burnt offering, symbol of perpetual devotion to God and His
Torah […] All the actions of the consecration and the sanctification are but
symbolic acts. The sanctity of the place itself does not prevail other than by
God's causing his presence to rest there. Thus does God establish the works of
man's hands and He stamps upon them the stamp of His pleasant approval.
Hirsch, ibid. ibid.)
As little as I have ever understood the exact meaning
of the expression "the opening up of the soul in its love of God," I
ask myself, nonetheless, whether there isn't a certain connection between the establish-ment
of working hours and the love of God, with or without the opening up of the
soul. I am even inclined to believe that there are not many other ways to love
God than to establish these working hours correctly, no way that is more urgent.
Levinas, quoted in Nine Talmudic Readings)
The eradication of amalek – an ethical challenge
"And it shall be, when the Lord
your God grants you respite from all your enemies… you shall wipe out the
remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens, you shall not forget" (Devarim
Every year, on the Shabbat preceding Purim we read this command. Even those who
are not always meticulous in hearing the Torah readings, pay special attention
on this Shabbat in order to perform the mitzvah.
How can this be? How can the same Torah
which commanded: "Fathers shall not die because of the sons and sons shall
not die for their fathers, each shall die for his own sin" (Devarim
was so cautious with regard to "You shall not kill" that the Mishna
determines that a Sanhedrin which effects an execution once in seventy years is
branded a destructive tribunal (Makkoth
us to wipe out the remembrance of Amalek! We are troubled not only by the
problems of suitability and consistency, but primarily by the ethical problem! How
can we accept with equanimity this order of extermination while maintaining an
ethical position which totally negates genocide?
The earliest formulation of this
problems is found in the Babylonian Talmud, in the midrash [homilitical
exposition] of the uncommon verb "vayarev" (And Shaul advanced
as far as the city of Amalek and argued (vayarev) in the wadi"
unclear. The author of the midrash chose to read it as 'argued']
"And he argued in the wadi', said
R. Mani: Regarding the law of the wadi. [Translator's note: The
sacrifice of a heifer in a wadi was communal expiation for unsolved murder – See
he replied: If, in the case of a single killing, the Torah said to offer the
heifer, certainly for all these souls all the more so!? If a human sinned, what
was the sin of the beast? And if adults sinned, what was the sin of the minors?'
A divine voice came forth and said to him 'Do not be overly righteous'. And
when Shaul said to Doeg 'Go and strike the priests' a divine voice came forth
and said 'do not be overly wicked' (Yoma 22b)
According to this midrash, Shaul
turns to God seeking understanding of how He who commanded the heifer ritual,
which so exalts the value of human life, can also order the destruction of a
nation, including the non-guilty. What answer does the midrash in Yoma
offer? A divine voice which does not give a straight answer, but refers us to a
different incident involving Shaul; the slaughter of Nov, a city of priests. We
Shaul, reaches Nob and requests bread and shelter. When Shaul is informed of
this he orders Doeg the Edomite to wipe out the entire population of the town:
"And he put Nob, the town of the
priests, Nob, to the sword, men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen,
asses, and sheep – all to the sword" (I Shmuel 22:
similarity between the charge to destroy Amalek "Now go, attack Amalek,
and proscribe all that belongs to him. Spare no one but kill alike men and
women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses" (Ibid
to the midrash, of Shaul's unstable and unethical personality. The
divine voice admonishes Shaul "You, who with such ease drew the sword and slaughtered
all the habitants of Nob, town of priests, despite their innocence, dare to
speak about pity for Amalek? 'Do not be overly righteous'!
The midrash in Yoma supplies a sharp
answer to Shaul, but it does not provide a satisfactory answer to the moral
problem which has troubled generations of Jews who have looked to the Bible for
Prof. Sagi published an extensive survey
of commentary on the subject, analyzing the underlying trends of thought (See
his article: "The Punishment of Amalek: Jewish Tradition Copes with the
Ethical Problem", in Moutner, Sagi and Shamir (eds.), Multi-culturalism
in the Jewish Democratic State, Tel Aviv
the subject into two: realistic commentary – which claims that
Amalek's totally unacceptable behavior justifies exceptional punishment; and allegoric-symbolic
commentary, according to which 'Amalek' is not a real nation, but an idea,
a metaphor for the evil powers in the world which must be fought.
To represent the realistic approach I
have chosen Don Yitzchak Abarbanel (Portugal and Spain,
cent.) who enumerates, in his commentary to Devarim 25:
four "war crimes" which sanction shedding Amalekite blood: The first:
"They attacked for no reason", since Israel did not even enter
their territory; The second crime of Amalek finds expression in the fact
that they attacked without declaring war, unlike the practice of "the
kings […] who, before attacking another nation, notify their enemies of their
approach and tell them to prepare their weapons"; The third crime is
that "He [Amalek] waged war against the weak". The fourth crime of
Amalek is related to his rebellion against the God of Israel: "'and not
fearing God' […] that Amalek sinned against the Blessed One and against
Commentary on Devarim 25:
Many other exegites, however, considered
explanations such as these to be inadequate, and suggested a different method
of coping. They sought to see in Amalek an allegorical symbol of evil (cosmic,
nationalistic or individual) which must be contested.
Sagi, in his above-mentioned article,
quotes the commentary of R. Zvi Elimlech of Dinov, a Chassidic leader in early
example of the symbolic approach.
And since Amalek in is in the category
of the evil inclination […] we are therefore commanded to eradicate its
memory through our behavior. And also, because today it is impossible to
fulfill the mitzvah in actuality […] we are charged not to let it be
forgotten from our thoughts, but the primary component of remembrance is in the
intelligence, and through this we shall overcome Amalek.
Since Amalek is no longer a real
identifiable national entity (according to the Mishneh which claims that "Sanheriv,
king of Assyria, has already risen and jumbled all the nations", Mishneh,
Tractate Yadaim 4, 4; Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Prohibited Sexual Relations 22,
25) R' Elimelech of Dinov regards Amalek as an expression of the powers of evil
in the world, and our task is to fight the memory of Amalek (the evil
inclination) and to overcome him through the power of our thought.
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsh, one of the
leaders of the neo-Orthodoxy in
takes a similar position:
If a constant war is waged by the Holy One, blessed be
He, against Amalek, it cannot be but that this refers to that war of battles
incumbent upon all human beings, that Israel was commanded with in a specific
period […] but there is no doubt that this is the unceasing war of divine
justice, what is commonly termed the justice of history against Amalek, and not
necessarily that particular Amalek and its biological descendents, but all
those nations and kingdoms which continue the Amalekite legacy and are
descendents of Amalek in their spirit or character.
Rashar Hirsch adds a most important
Forget not this, should the day come and you will
desire to resemble Amalek and like him […] seek opportunities through means small
and great to exploit your superiority in order to hurt people […] do not forget
this thing, that when the day comes and you yourself will suffer from arrogance
and the violence of Amalek. Watch over the humanitarianism and the values of
justice which you learned from your Lord2.
Everyone, even, – God forefend – the
Jewish people can be infected with Amalekite attributes: "There will come
a day" says Rashar Hirsch, "that you – the Jewish nation – will be
powerful, and then in particular must be you careful not to be infected by that
Amalekite-ism which is expressed through the exploitation of your strength in
order to demean and to destroy those weaker than yourself".
R. Moshe Avigdor Amiel, Rabbi of Tel
Aviv who did in
of the Mizrachi, saw in the war against Amalek the war of God against
God, blessed be He, does like wars in
the world; on the contrary, "Shalom" is the name of the Holy One,
blessed be He. One obligatory war did He decree and that is the war against
Amalek, the war against wars in general […]3.
Another variation on the symbolist
approach has developed following the Shoah, and thus writes Avraham Kariv in
Every blow against
work of Amalek. Because Amalek is not race but essence. […] In our generation
Amalek gathered strength for an intensified advance and the face of the world
was transformed monstrously4.
In his introduction to the Haphtara of
Parashat Zachor, R. Yissachar Yaakobson reads Amalek as every enemy who threatens
the existence of the Jewish nation.
Kingdom in Israel is possible and
desirable only in order to fulfill the word of the Lord […] but there is no
purpose to this kingdom […] as long as there exists that nation which
resisted in so insolent a manner the will of God and His kingdom. The existence
of the kingdom in
therefore, forcefully and unequivocally demands the destruction of God's enemy,
Let us note, if the goal of the
symbolist approach was to shake off from the commandment its concrete content,
the identification of Amalek with or that nation with the "Amalek of our
generation" is liable to permit from anew the killing of individuals who
did not sin, in the name of the eradication of the present day Amalek.
A personal direction suggests symbolic interpretation
of a psychological hue. This commentary seeks evil neither in the real world
nor in higher spheres; it points to the Amalek which exists in every one of us.
The words of the command "Remember what Amalek did to you [singular]"
is understood as an appeal to the individual. Thus the meaning of the command
is completely changed: Amalek is neither this nor that entity in the world; it
is found in every one of us. R. Yisrael of Kuzhnitz puts this claim in clear
focus when he says: Amalek is the yetzer hara – the evil inclination – who
oppresses every man."6
On a broadsheet which appeared nine
years ago, on the eve of Shabbat "Zachor", the following was written:
As Jews we are commanded to erase the memory of Amalek,
symbol of evil, and to combat wickedness, even that which resides within us.
For us: Amalekism is the evil inclination; Amalekism
is baseless hatred; Amalekism is cruelty to the weak who live among us;
Amalekism is the discrimination against the strangers and the aliens who dwell
in our gates; Amalism is racism.
We began this article by presenting the
moral difficulties raised by the command to eradicate Amalek, and we concluded
with revolutionary commentary according to which the eradication of Amalek is
the constant struggle against the evil which resides in us.
1. Elimelech Zvi of Dinov, Bnei
Yissaschar (name and place not cited) essay for month of Adar, Essay 3,
according to Sagi, loc cit.
2. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, Cycles
of the Year, Part 2, Bnei Brak 5726, p.
According to Sagi.
3. Moshe Avigdor Amiel, Derashot
El Ami, Part 3, Tel Aviv 5724, P.
According to Sagi, op.cit.
4. Avraham Kariv, Seven
Pillars of the Tenach, Tel Aviv [date not cited]. Pp. 224-227.
5. Rabbi Yissachar Yaakobson, Chazon
Hamikra, Vol. II, Tel Aviv [date not cited] p.
6. Rabbi Yisrael of Kozhnitz, Avodat
Yisrael, Bnei Brak 5733, 22b. According to Sagi op. cit.
Zivian is Co-director of the
Indwelling of the Divine Presence Reflects Human Attitudes Towards God
One man used to say: When our love was
strong, we could lie together on the edge of a sword; now that the love between
us has weakened, a bed 60 cubits wide is insufficient for us. Rav Huna said:
This idea is found in Scripture. In the beginning it is written, I will
arrange My meetings with you there, and I will speak with you from atop the ark
cover (Shemot 25), and we learned that the Ark was nine
handbreadths, and the cover one handbreadth, making a total of ten,
but [later] it is written, And the the house which king Solomon built
for the Lord, the length thereof (was) sixty cubits, and the breadth thereof
twenty cubits, and the height thereof thirty cubits (I Kings 6).
And in the end it is written, So says the Lord, "The heavens are
My throne, and the earth is My footstool; which is the house that you will build for Me, etc.? (Isaiah 66).
God really dwell on earth? Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot
contain You, how much less this House that I have built. (I Kings
When love between
and its Lord was strong, the Shekhina could contract itself and come into
the area of two cubits. But when this love waned – "Even the heavens
to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You, how much less this House."
The closeness of God and Man is dependent upon the
degree of love that Man has for God, as in the spirit of the verse in the "Shema",
the key verse of the faith: "And you shall love the Lord your God". then
can the Shekhina contract itself into the area of human reality. But if not – the
world and all that is therein is too small to contain the Shekhina.
Y. Leibowitz: "Remarks on the Weekly Parasha", p, 59)
Amalek Came… did not stand in awe of God"
Only Amalek was
not afraid; "did not stand in awe of God". He alone inherited the character
of that nation which chose as its inheritance the sword and which seeks glory
in the blood-soaked laurel wreathes, the nation which strives to realize the
motto "we will make for ourselves a name." (Bereishit
with which the aged Nimrod begins the history of the world. And how is this to
be achieved? By destroying international peace and human happiness. (Rabbi
S.R. Hirsch on Shemot
The Multiple Faces of "The Holy Spirit"
It is taught in a berayta, R. Eliezer says: Esther
was composed under the inspiration of the holy sprit, as it says, and Haman
said in his heart.
R. Akiva says: Esther was composed under the
inspiration of the holy sprit, as it says, And Esther obtained favor in the
eyes of all that looked upon her.
R. Meir says: Esther was composed under the
inspiration of the holy sprit, as it says And the things became known to
R. Jose b. Durmaskith said: Esther was composed
under the inspiration of the holy sprit, as it says, But on the spoil
they laid not their hands.
Said Shmuel: Had I been there, I would given a proof
superior to all, namely, that it says, They confirmed and took upon them,[which means] they confirmed above what they took upon themselves below.
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