web analytics
July 30, 2015 / 14 Av, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Fighting Amalek From Within


Hashem said to Moshe, “Write this for a memorial in a book, and recite it in the ears of Yehoshua; for I will completely erase the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Shemos 17:14).

For most of our history, the struggle between the Jewish people and Amalek was seen as an external one, pitting the world’s first (and for many centuries, only) monotheistic nation against one that vehemently and spitefully rejected our core values and beliefs.

Recent history, however, has told a different story. Over the past few centuries, our struggle with Amalek has become increasingly internalized within the psyche of our people, manifesting itself in the form of secularism and antipathy toward religion.

Jewish secularism has taken on a variety of forms. Some Jews have chosen to embrace only the cultural aspects of their heritage, expressing an identity based on shared values and historical experiences, while preserving their strong desire for an unfettered, humanistic lifestyle.

Secular Humanistic Jews understand Judaism as the human-centered history, culture, civilization, ethical values, and shared experience of the Jewish people. For us, the message of Jewish history is that we have the power and the responsibility to take control of our own lives. [Mission statement of the International Federation of Secularist Humanistic Jews]

Others, however, have acted more forcefully in their fight against God and their religious tradition. In his biographical study of Sigmund Freud, Yale historian Peter Gay explained that “it was as a particular kind of atheist, a Jewish atheist [italics mine], that Freud was enabled to make his momentous discoveries” (A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis, Yale University Press, 1989).

Gay’s identification of Freud as a uniquely “Jewish” atheist deserves attention. In what sense might a person’s Jewish heritage impact on his decision to choose a course of non-belief? Further, in what sense does “Jewish” atheism differ from traditional atheism, to the point where it can be credited with somehow impacting Freud in his professional work?

I believe the answer to these questions lies in the fact that no other atheist has more cause to experience such immense inner tension over renouncing his heritage as does one with Jewish lineage. For the Jew, belief in God is normal and expected, the basis of our identity and our unique place in history. To challenge God’s existence is to be at odds with one’s deeper sense of self and our national odyssey.

Freud was not simply a non-believer. He was an aggressive atheist, with, in his own words, an “absolutely negative attitude toward religion, in every form and dilution.” Freud branded religion “an illusion” and made repeated reference to his own lack of faith, as evidenced by his rhetorical question to the Swiss psychoanalyst and pastor Oskar Pfister, “Why did none of the devout create psychoanalysis? Why did one have to wait for a completely Godless Jew?”

Freud posited that it was psychological motives (particularly the feeling of helplessness regarding one’s surroundings) rather than firm spiritual convictions that formed the basis of religious impulses. He saw his mission to “awaken the world from the enchantment in which the magicians and priests had held it imprisoned since pagan antiquity.”

Freud’s anti-Jewish antagonism was so great that in his final work, Moses and Monotheism, published in 1939 on the eve of his death, he suggested that Moshe was not in fact a Jew but an Egyptian prince who rescued the Jews from Egypt and whom they subsequently killed. To Freud, the work was by no means a literary afterthought, an ancillary addendum to his great career. To the contrary – he was thoroughly obsessed with its publication. “Moses will not let go of my imagination. [He] torments me like an unlaid ghost.” (Dual Allegiance: Freud As a Modern Jew, Moshe Gresser, SUNY Press, 1984.)

The fact that Freud grappled with such a topic, and espoused such a twisted theory with no factual basis, is perplexing. Why publish an offensive book that flies in the face of everything sacred to the Jewish people at a time when Nazi militarism had engulfed Germany and Austria and threatened the safety of his Jewish brethren, as well as the peace of the entire European continent? In his final days, Freud was still trying to quell his irrepressible Jewish spirit that yearned to break free and find religious expression. Nobody talks so constantly about God as a person who insists He does not exist. It was an unending struggle, one Freud could never overcome no matter how hard he tried.

Jews who choose the path of secularist atheism, such as three of the most influential men in recent history – Freud, Karl Marx and Albert Einstein – often turn viciously anti-Jewish in the process. In the venomous words of Marx:

Money is the jealous god of Israel, besides which no other god may exist. Money abases all the gods of mankind and changes them into commodities. Money is the self-sufficient value of all things. It has, therefore, deprived the whole world, both the human world and nature, of their own proper value. Money is the alienated essence of man’s work and existence: this essence dominates him and he worships it. The god of the Jews has been secularized and become the god of this world. [“On the Jewish Question,” 1844]

Others, like Einstein, hung their hat of disbelief on their claim that religion and its spiritual conceptions are completely incomprehensible concepts unsuited for rational, modern man:

I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension. Such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. [The World As I See It, Philosophical Library, 1949]

Though Einstein was capable of comprehending many of the immense complexities of quantum science, he was unable to grasp signs of the divine, something within the capabilities of even the youngest child.

These Jews – and countless others like them – understood their accomplishments to have been possible only due to the intellectual and moral freedoms of modernity. In truth, however, the negative view they held of their Jewish tradition greatly restricted the potential gains of their personal genius.

Of course, the battle between Jewish values and those espoused by Amalek does not only manifest itself in such stark terms. We all struggle in some way to properly identify the significant role Hashem plays in our lives, and to ascribe adequate credit for all He does on our behalf.

Rav Chaim Friedlander, zt”l (Sifsei Chaim, Vol. 2, p. 171-172) writes that before we can eliminate any form of external Amalek, we must first attempt to identify and remove any vestiges of that nation from within our own selves. To the extent we see matters in our personal lives as happenstance or the consequence of purely natural events, we are guilty of harboring a piece of Amalek within our own hearts. And if we go so far as to downplay valid attempts to infuse the world with additional holiness, we are removing any possibility of truly fulfilling this vital mandate.

It is impossible for us today to properly fulfill the mitzvah of physically destroying Amalek. We are, however, required to attempt to destroy its memory, the intellectual and emotional Amalek that affects us all. In so doing, we will bring Hashem’s throne that much closer to its completed state, and take meaningful steps toward fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy: “Hashem shall be king over all the earth; on that day the Hashem shall be one and his name one.”

Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is Head of School at Torah Day School of Atlanta. He can be reached at nhoff@torahday.org.

About the Author: Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach and president of Impactful Coaching and Consulting (ImpactfulCoaching.com). He can be reached at 212-470-6139 or at president@impactfulcoaching.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Fighting Amalek From Within”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Dore Gold.
Foreign Ministry Calls Sunni Arab Nations ‘Israel’s Allies’
Latest Indepth Stories
Rabbi Yaakov Spivak

Hard to remember when Jewish youth were so hostile to their heritage as they are on campuses today.

Talks between Iran and the P5+1 were likely to be extended beyond Obama's self-imposed deadline.

Names of the enablers of Iran’s Nuclear weapons will be added next to Hitler’s on the list of infamy

By most accounts, the one person with the political muscle to swing enough Democratic votes to override a veto is Sen. Schumer.

The next day, in a speech in New York to the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Kerry substantially upped the ante.

In Israel, the judiciary has established itself as superior to ALL other branches of the government.

The Fifteenth Day of the month of Av became a day of national rejoicing. The moment that had seemed hopeless became the moment of Redemption.

I think the melodies in our religious services have a haunting sound to them that just permeates your guts and gets into your soul. If you have any musical inclination, I think they inspire you to compose.

Cavalier analogies to the Holocaust are unacceptable, but Huckabee’s analogy was very appropriate.

Pollard was a Jewish-head-on-a-pike for all American Jews to see and to learn the explicit lesson.

If the Iran deal passes, Obama’s WH becomes world’s leading financier of terrorism against Americans

{Originally posted to the author’s website, FirstOne Through} Some passionate and eloquent liberals have bemoaned the state of inclusiveness among Jews today. Leon Wieseltier, editor of the New Republic penned an angry piece “J Street’s Rejection Is a Scandal” about the exclusion in 2014 of J Street from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. […]

Magnanimity by Moshe Dayan, allowing Muslim control of the Temple Mount, led to today’s situation.

It was modeled upon a similar fund that had been set up by Sephardic Jews in Venice. But Amsterdam’s Dotar was initially more ambitious in scope.

Rav Aharon Margalit is a bestselling author – his book, As Long As I Live, has been translated into four languages – and a standing-room only lecturer. Both religious and non-religious audiences flock to hear him. What makes him so extraordinary? Rav Margalit is a Chasidic Jew who experienced incredible challenges from a very young […]

More Articles from Rabbi Naphtali Hoff
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff

Like the Avos, we are invested with the mission to inspire humanity to become nobler and greater

Rabbi Naphtali Hoff

In addition to the palace’s tremendous size it was home to the “hanging gardens,” which were counted among the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The reaction is so strong that nine times out of ten, parents engage in some form of coping mechanism before arriving at a level of acceptance of a special-needs diagnosis.

We must create an atmosphere of complete intolerance for such conduct, while reminding our children that we can take pride in our unique and distinctive purpose without knocking others.

In which specific respects are we to attempt to “relive” yetzias Mitzrayim?

Until recent times, every powerful nation that has ever ruled the world has been fundamentally anti-Semitic.

The Holocaust was the latest attempt of Amalek to destroy the special bond that we enjoy with God.

A central concept in any discussion about happiness is achieving clarity. “Ain simcha ela k’hataras hasefeikos” – there is no joy as that experienced with the removal of doubt.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/fighting-amalek-from-within/2011/01/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: