Parshas Zachor

When in Doubt, Do Without?

This week is Parashas Zachor, which means in place of the usual maftir, we will skip ahead to Parashas Ki Seitzei and read about how Amalek attacked the Jewish people shortly after they left Egypt. Many hold that the hearing of this maftir is a Torah mitzvah that is incumbent on women too (Rav Noson Adler, zt"l, was very stringent in making sure that all the women in his house made it to shul to hear Parashas Zachor), which is why women make it a point to be in shul for this week's erev Purim special maftir.

The truth is, the remembering of what Amalek did to the Jewish people is not a once-in-a-year mitzvah; there is an obligation to remember every day what happened. It's just that the Talmud says that the average memory lasts about 12 months, and therefore, we need an official reminder once every 12 months. What about during a leap year which is 13 months long, you may be asking? For this reason, the Vilna Gaon had in mind in such a year to fulfill this mitzvah when actually reading the maftir in its proper time, that is, during the reading of Parashas Ki Seitzei. This way, 12 months would not pass without reading about Amalek.

However, why is Amalek, for all the evil he did, singled out as we see in this verse:

Moshe built an altar, and he named it, God-is-My-Banner. He said, "The hand is on God's Throne. God will be at war with Amalek for all generations."
(Shemos 17:15)
After all, the Jewish people have had, and still have, many enemies. However, none have earned the wrath of G-d like Amalek did when he attacked the Jewish people shortly after the munn miraculously fell from the sky. Even though the midrash states that it is "natural" for Eisav to hate Ya'akov, still, G-d is not at war with Eisav. Even though Yishmael has been a thorn in our side throughout history his entire history, still, G-d did not take any vow to annihilate his people. Only Amalek is considered to be the complete antithesis of the Jewish nation, our spiritual nemesis.


The clue is right in Amalek's name. Numerically, the word Amalek (ayin, mem, lamed, kuf) is equal to 240. It is brought down that this is not by coincidence, because 240 happens to also be the gematria of the word "sufek," which means "doubt" in Hebrew. This correlation exists to teach us that Amalek is anything that causes doubt in the mind of the Jew. But doubt in what?

The answer to this question comes from pointing out that the name Amalek also equals the words, "el acher" (aleph, lamed, aleph, ches, raish), which means "other god." In other words, Amalek creates doubt in G-d's oneness, which is the source of idol worship, that is, the belief in other powers (be they in the form of wood and stone, or gold and silver, that is, money). This is why the Torah indicates and Rashi explains that Amalek even causes a "split," so-to-speak" in the Ineffable Name of G-d, which is another way of saying that nature gives the impression that it works independently of G-d.

How does Amalek do this?

He does this by getting away with murder, literally. For example, one of the biggest stumbling blocks in modern-day Jewry's belief in G-d is the Holocaust. "Where was G-d in 1942?" is not an uncommon question. The underpinning of this question is, "If G-d is here and runs the world, then how could the Holocaust have occurred?"

But it did occur, and therefore, tragically, many a Jewish mind concludes, G-d must not be there.

That has been called Hitler's greatest (or worse, depending upon who's talking) legacy. For, every Jew who died in the Holocaust (even those who had not been strong in their belief in G-d and Torah), are considered to have died as Jews, and had therefore sanctified the Name of G-d. Even those who "survived" the Holocaust and turned their backs on Judaism as a result have been called "Holy Disbelievers," because of what they went through.

However, millions of Jews since then who have grown up during peaceful times have simply turned their backs on Judaism, assimilating and even intermarrying, for no reason other than the fact that creation seems to be a "captain-less ship." After all, are they not growing up in a society that believes (at least on some level) that "nice people finish last"? How could nice people lose out if G-d, who, by definition must be just, is here and is involved in everyday life? Or, more accurately (and this is the way the question has been posed to me many times): Why doesn't lightning come down from the sky every time there is a miscarriage of justice?

That's Amalek's favorite question. He uses it at every opportunity to sow seeds of doubt in the mind of the Jew. Any question about the way the world runs ends off with those words, or similar ones. And when no answer comes to mind, he simply shrugs his shoulders and says, "You see! You don't have to be so committed to Torah and Judaism after all ... Just ease up a bit ... Don't take yourself so seriously ... Normalize ..." What he really means to say is, "You don't have to try to be so close to G-d since you won't find Him anyway."

It's right about that point that the Hamans, the Hitlers, and the Husseins of society emerge. Like bacteria that infests an unstirile environment, Amalek grows within the spiritual void left by our own intellectual doubt. When you're looking for "a way out," doubt can go a long way to clear one's conscience to "free" the personal from being morally responsible, as the Talmud reveals:

The Jewish nation only worshipped idols to permit forbidden relationships in public. (Sanhedrin 63b)
On the other hand, the self-honest and inquisitive mind uses doubt to energize, to create the need for research to clarify and dispel doubt, to turn "grays" back into clearly defined "blacks" and "whites" ... to return "good" and "evil" (which can often be subjective) back into "true" and "false" (which are absolute)

Instinctually we may be satisfied being spiritually ignorant. However, deep inside our "heart of hearts," we know that it is from darkness that light must emerge, that from chaos order must surface, otherwise ...

To win the battle against Amalek and avoid the spiritual and physical destruction that follows in his wake, we have to re-commit ourselves to intellectual-honesty, to examine and re-examine what we believe in and why we do, and what we doubt, and where the doubt stems from. Such people are the true heroes of society, for it is their questions that lead to the true answers, and which pull back the spiritual mask from over the hidden hand of G-d.

That is something worth remembering.

May we merit to draw down the "Hidden Light" of creation and witness the eradication of all false beliefs, and enjoy the sublime pleasure that comes from living doubt-free.

Shabbat Shalom,
Pinchas Winston

Rabbi Winston's email address is pinahav@netvision.net.il

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