Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah
January 25, 2024
17 Shevat 5784
Shortly after October 7, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared to Hamas to the Amalekites. A lot of people who don’t know very much about Judaism have claimed that Bibi’s use of that language was a call to genocide. People who know a little something about Judaism know that’s not what he meant. The story of the Amalekites begins in this week’s Torah portion. The Israelites had escaped from Egypt, they had crossed the Sea of Reeds, and they were now dealing with their new nomadic lives in the Sinai Peninsula. Earlier in the Torah portion, God had addressed their lack of food by providing manna in the mornings and quail in the evenings. And now, the Amalekites arrived on the scene. According to Exodus 17, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites and a battle ensued. Through Moses’s staff, God interceded, and the Israelites were victorious. After the battle, God told Moses to make a record of the military victory so that the memory of the Amalekites will be blotted out. It’s actually a bit ironic. If Moses had not written the history of that battle, no one would remember the Amalekites. But, here we are all these centuries later and we do, in fact, remember them. So, why did God want the memory of the Amalekites eradicated? If we fast-forward to Deuteronomy 25, when Moses was recalling the battle with the Amalekites, we get a few more details. According to this second telling of the story, the Amalekites snuck up on the Israelites from behind and attacked those who were weak and weary and famished. And here, God tells the Israelites, “Remember that which the Amalekites did to you (Deut. 25:17).” Ever since, the Amalekites have come to represent the epitome of evil in the Jewish tradition. The rabbis who established Judaism believed that every tragedy that befell the Israelites was somehow connected to the Amalekites. Haman—the villain of Purim in ancient Persia—was considered a descendant of the Amalekites. When the Romans destroyed the Temple, they were believed to be descendants of the Amalekites. In the 20th century, Hitler was called a descendant of the Amalekites. There is no biological or genetic link among the Amalekites, Haman, the Romans and Hitler. It is merely a reminder that there will always be people in this world who seek to do us harm. That’s the connection among them. So, it makes perfect sense to lump Hamas together with all the other perpetrators of violence against the Jews throughout our history. It is NOT a call to genocide. Quite the opposite, it is a call to hope. Just as we survived all those others who sought to destroy us, we will outlast Hamas as well. We will remember that which the Amalekites—and Hamas!—did to us. Shalom,RAF.