Gem of the Week from Rav Hirsch: Amalek vs. Klal Yisroel


By Moshe Pogrow, director, Ani Maamin Foundation

The events of the midbar—Marah, the slav, the mann, Shabbos, water from the rock—taught the Jewish people about their future relationship with nature: by subjugating themselves to Hashem, they would gain independence from the forces of nature. But there was one more experience they would have to undergo, an experience that would teach them about their future standing as a nation. The teacher of this lesson was Amalek.

The people must have appeared weak as they wandered in the wilderness, men, women and children seeking a homeland, but the Shechina hovered over them, the fear of it paralyzing surrounding nations. Only Amalek rushed, unprovoked, to confront it; only Amalek chose the sword. It sought fame in blood—a goal that is the greatest enemy of human happiness and Divine kingship. Pharaoh used force to further his own interests, but Amalek’s sword knew no rest as long as one home remained standing whose residents did not tremble before it.

Attacked by Amalek, Israel was compelled to meet the test of battle. However, it is not the sword of Israel, but the hands of Moshe, that defeats Amalek—and it is not a magic power in the hands, but the emunah awakened by those hands, that prevails over Amalek.

Amalek does not hate nations that equal it in violence. It regards their military preparedness with respect, since they acknowledge Amalek’s power and share its principles. Instead, Amalek harbors deadly hatred for those who dare to dispense with the sword and trust in spiritual and moral power that the sword cannot reach. When Amalek looks at the Jews, representatives of peace and human nobility, it sees only a mockery of its principles. So with instinct fed by hate, it rushed to stamp them out immediately.

What threatens the moral future of mankind is not Amalek, but zecher Amalek, its glorification. As long as humanity honors the sword, as long as those who murder the happiness of mankind are not forgotten, subsequent generations will look upon them with admiration, and their memory will awaken the desire to emulate them. Only when G-d’s word becomes the sole criterion for every action, and recognition of morality increases in direct—not inverse—proportion to power and greatness; when the greater and more powerful the person, the less any lapse in his morality is excused; only then will Amalek’s reign end.

G-d’s plan is not merely to establish klal Yisrael—His purpose in building up klal Yisrael is to overcome everything inhumane on earth. Our nation’s fabric is woven from justice and compassion, tzedakah u’mishpat. The example we set will someday make this trait common to all mankind.

Do not envy those who destroy human happiness in a bid for honor. Even when you yourself suffer from the brutality of Amalek, stay firm. Maintain the humanity and justice Hashem has taught us, because humanity and justice will ultimately triumph over brutality. We, through our example, will bring about that triumph.

Have a wonderful Shabbos.

Please note: The “Gem of the Week,” is based on excerpts from Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l’s commentary on Chumash, with permission from the publisher. 

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