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

Gili Zivan

"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

24:17), that

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 1,

10) – commands

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"

(I Shmuel 15:8) [Translator's note: The meaning of vayarev is

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

Devarim 21] When the Holy One, blessed be He, charged Shaul: 'Go and smite Amalek',

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

recall how David, fleeing from

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 22:19). The linguistic

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

15:2-3), and the verse describing the destruction of Nob, is evidence, according

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 1998

pp. 477-510 [Heb]) In his footsteps, I wish to divide the commentary on

the subject into two: realistic commentarywhich 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, 15th

cent.) who enumerates, in his commentary to Devarim 25:17,

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 Israel" (Abarbanel's

Commentary on Devarim 25:17)

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 18th century Poland, which may provide a good

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.1

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 19th

century Germany,

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 1946, and was a leader

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

his book:

Every blow against Israel from then until now is the

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 Israel,

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,

Drush 1, p. 103,

according to Sagi, loc cit.

2. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, Cycles

of the Year, Part 2, Bnei Brak 5726, p. 189.

According to Sagi.

3. Moshe Avigdor Amiel, Derashot

El Ami, Part 3, Tel Aviv 5724, P.134.

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. 199.

6. Rabbi Yisrael of Kozhnitz, Avodat

Yisrael, Bnei Brak 5733, 22b. According to Sagi op. cit.

Dr. Gili

Zivian is Co-director of the Yaakov

Herzog Center.




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 footstoolwhich is the house that you will build for Me, etc.? (Isaiah 66).

(Sanhedrin 7a)


But will

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 Israel

and its Lord was strong, the Shekhina could contract itself and come into

contact with Israel on the Ark's covering, in

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 17, 8)



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.

(Megillah 7a)



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