This week we read Parshas Zachor. There is a mitzvas asei for one to remember what Amalek did to us while on the road as we left Mitzrayim. If one does not remember he will have transgressed a lo sa’aseh. The Sifrei, in Parshas Ki Seitzei, says that the way in which one is to remember is by reading the parshah in the Torah that discusses Amalek’s attack, and the commandment to remember and annihilate Amalek found at the end of Parshas Ki Seitzei. The Gemara, in Megillah 30a, says that we should read Parshas Zachor prior to Purim so that the remembrance of what Amalek did should be adjacent to the reading of his annihilation.
The Sefer HaChinuch states in mitzvah 603 that women are exempt from the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to us. He explains that this is because it is not upon women to wage war against and avenge the enemy. It is evident that the Chinuch holds that the mitzvah of remembering Amalek’s action against us is a prerequisite to the mitzvah of annihilating Amalek; therefore the fact that women are not obligated in the war against Amalek is reason to exempt them from the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to us.
The Minchas Chinuch asks several questions on the Chinuch’s ruling. One point he raises is that the Gemara in Sotah 44b says that everyone must go to war for a milchemes mitzvah – even a kallah from her chuppah. Additionally one can question the Chinuch’s writing in mitzvah 425 regarding the mitzvah that even women are obligated to fulfill, namely to kill the seven nations. Evidently women are obligated to wage war, and thus even according to the Chinuch’s logic (that the two mitzvos are connected) they should be obligated in the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to us.
My rebbe, Reb Shmuel Birnbaum, zt”l, suggested that we can differentiate between the mitzvah to annihilate Amalek and the other mitzvos. The words of the Chinuch indicate that, in his opinion, the mitzvah of annihilating Amalek is in essence to take revenge. As the Chinuch says: ”for it is upon men to wage war and avenge the enemy – and not women.” Regarding the mitzvah to destroy the seven nations, the Chinuch writes that “the seven nations started worshiping all sorts of idols… therefore we are commanded to destroy them… by performing this mitzvah and succeeding to annihilate them we will have benefited, for we will no longer be able to learn from their ways.” The source for this (regarding the obligation to kill the seven nations) is the pasuk in Devarim 20:18: “So that they will not teach you to act according to all the abominations that they performed for their gods.”
The essence of the mitzvah to annihilate the seven nations is to rid the word of evil and bad influences. The essence of the mitzvah to annihilate Amalek is to avenge them. Women are obligated to go to war; however, when the essence of the war is to avenge, they are exempt. As the Chinuch says, it is upon the men – and not the women – to avenge. Therefore for a milchemes mitzvah or to kill the seven nations, women are obligated. They are only exempt from the milchamah against Amalek, since it is a war whose purpose is to take revenge.
Reb Shmuel added that there is a possible nafka mina (difference) between the two mitzvos. If there is one who is about to die on his own, is there an obligation to kill him? If he is an Amaleki, we would still be obligated to kill him to take revenge. But if he is from the seven nations, where the purpose of the mitzvah is to rid the world of evil influences, perhaps there would not be an obligation to kill him since he is going to die anyway and thus not influence either way.
I want to suggest another answer to the Minchas Chinuch’s questions on the Chinuch. The Radvaz, in his commentary to the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 7:4) where the Rambam writes that for a milchemes mitzvah even a kallah from her chuppah must go to war, asks the following based on Tehillim 45: “Is it the derech for women to go to war? Does the pasuk not say that the glory of a woman is inside?” The Radvaz answers that perhaps the role that the women assumed in the war was to bring provisions to their husbands.
Based on this, we can explain that although women are an integral part of the war they do not partake in the actual killing of the enemy. As previously mentioned, the Chinuch is of the opinion that the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to us is a prerequisite to the mitzvah of annihilating Amalek – for as the Rambam, in Hilchos Melachim 5:5 and Sefer HaMitzvos mitzvas asei 189, explains: one should bring himself to remember what Amalek did to us so that he has the mindset to wage war. We can suggest that only one who is obligated to partake in the actual killing of Amalek is obligated to remember what Amalek did to us. Therefore women are exempt, since they do not partake in the actual killing of Amalek.