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Shema-Zachor-Remembering Amalek

“And You have brought us close to Your great Name forever in truth…” This verse deals with the story of the battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:16).  God says to Moses “The hand upon the throne of the Lord, the Lord will have war with Amalek, from generation to generation.”  Rashi says, the hand of the Holy One Blessed be He was raised to swear by His throne that there would be for God war and hatred against Amalek forever.  Why is the word for ‘throne’ written kes, rather than kiseh? Why is the aleph missing?  Is then also the Divine Name also divided in half?  The Holy One Blessed be He swore that His Name will not be whole, nor His throne whole, until the Name of Amalek is blotted out.  Therefore, when the verse in the blessing reads You have brought us close to Your great Name, God’s Name is great only when Amalek is destroyed.  This is the way we remember what Amalek did to us.


What did Amalek do to us?  Amalek and the Jews are very, very similar to each other.  Any differences are very subtle.  In fact, you’ll find an unbelievable Midrash on this week’s Parsha.  There was a woman named Timnah who was the daughter of a great prince, who came to Abraham and said, “I recognize the truth of your way, and I would like to convert.”  But the one and only time in his life, Abraham refused to convert her.  Later, she went to Isaac and said, “Convert me, I want to become part of your family.”  Isaac refused.  Still later, she went to Jacob saying, “Convert me,  please!”  And even though Jacob had converted others, he refused to convert Timnah.  So Timnah went to Esau and said, “I want to at least be related to this family.  And if I can’t convert let me join you in marriage.”  So Timnah became a concubine of Esau’s son Elifaz.  Her son, with Elifaz, was Amalek.

This woman had a very deep appreciation for who the Jewish people were, and yet she was refused.  The relationship between Amalek and the Jewish people is not “They’re the worst people to walk the face of the earth.”  They are.  But not because they went around murdering and raping.  The difference is (and it’s difficult to describe in four hours, or less) what we do to demonstrate that God is involved in the world, and that there exists the element of chance.  Both Amalek and the Jewish people acknowledge that chance exists.  There wouldn’t be free will if there weren’t.  Chance means that, since we have free will, we determine what the next thing to happen will be.  It’s not predetermined.  And yet God is involved.

Amalek says, “If God is involved, then there is no chance.  Chance, then, is a flaw.  Therefore, to fully grow as human beings, and to take advantage of the chance, we have to reject God.”  The Jews say, “It’s possible to balance the two together.”  This is what the story of Purim was about.  Amalek says that the way God created the world is self-contradictory.  “Either there’s chance, or it’s pre-determined.  You can’t have it both ways.  If you want there to be chance, and what we do is important, and we can feel that we are creating ourselves, then don’t tell us that God is involved.  And if you tell me that God is involved, then there can’t be chance.”  In other words, they are calling God a liar, a fraud.

As long as Amalek is alive, their argument is very real.  All of us experience it in one way or another.  And their argument appears to have some validity to it.  And so, God says that “My throne is not complete as long as they are alive.”  That’s why there is a commandment to remember what they did to us.  They were the ones who introduced this whole idea.  Remember, they attacked the Jews right after the Red Sea split.  You’d have to be crazy to attack the Jews right after the miracle at the Sea.  So why did they do it? – To say, “If we can attack you, and kill one Jew, then that means that everything that happened until now is by chance, and not because of God.”  Amalek is fighting for this idea – everything that happens in life is pure chance.  And that’s why we have to remember this everyday, because this is part of our struggle as human beings.  We see our lives in front of us.  We feel very much in control.  On the other hand, we’re told that we have to believe that God is in charge.  That confusion makes it difficult for us to accept God fully.

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