Reb Dovid Blinder was a noted scholar and pedagogue in Russia in the late 1800s. He was called ‘Blinder’ (blind man) because he never lifted his head to look outside his immediate area. Among his other achievements, he had the distinction of teaching Rav Chaim Brisker in his youth.
Reb Dovid taught children Torah when the egregious Cantonist decrees were in place. To hide from the soldiers, Reb Dovid would learn with his students in underground cellars. One day, a soldier standing near the house heard his voice. The soldier immediately burst into the cellar and rushed at the child. But before the soldier was able to apprehend him, Reb Dovid pushed the soldier to the floor, and rescued the child from conscription.
As one can imagine, Reb Dovid’s actions were seen as treasonous and it took a tremendous amount of appealing and prodding to exonerate him from prison. The next time the Bais HaLevi met Reb Dovid he asked him how he had the courage to assault a soldier. Reb Dovid sheepishly replied, “The truth is I had no idea that he was a soldier. All I knew was that I was trying to teach my student Torah and someone barged in and impeded my lesson. So, without thinking more about it, I shoved him.”
After the splitting of the Sea, “The nations heard… fright gripped them” (15:14). Even the most avowed adversaries of Klal Yisrael were overwhelmed by the makkos and Krias Yam Suf. At that point, no nation would have had the audacity to attack, save one – defying logic Amalek, the nemesis of Klal Yisroel, attacked.
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch zt’l explains that this strident unprovoked attack was a continuation of the epic battle that began centuries earlier. Prior to Yaakov Avinu’s confrontation with Eisav he was challenged by Eisav’s malach. That battle was essentially a struggle for supremacy and superiority – whose philosophical outlook would reign supreme. Was Yaakov and his devotion to holiness and divinity the true dominator or was it Eisav and living by the sword? Although Yaakov triumphed over the malach, he had not vanquished him. Now centuries later, when Yaakov’s descendants were redeemed from the galus Mitzrayim, they were immediately greeted by Eisav’s grandson, Amalek.
The struggle between Yaakov and Eisav, which re-manifested itself in the struggle between Klal Yisroel and Amalek, is the ongoing struggle between holiness and impurity. Rav Hirsch asserts that even Pharaoh, who sanctioned ruthless slavery, could be a promoter of freedom if it served his interests. Amalek however, will never allow his sword to rest as long as Klal Yisroel exists. The mere existence of Klal Yisroel is an anathema to Amalek.
“In Israel he sees the object of moral hate and complete disdain, where one dares to think the sword is dispensable, where one dares to trust in spiritual-moral powers, powers of which the sword has no idea, and which are beyond its reach. In the representative of the idea of the greatness which Man can attain by peace, Amalek sees the utter scorn of all his principles, sees in it his own real enemy, and senses somehow his own ultimate collapse… Attacked by Amalek, Israel had to wage war, but it is not Israel’s sword but Moshe’s staff that conquers Amalek; and it is not any magical power in the staff but the faith which is expressed and brought to the minds of the people by the uplifted hand, the giving oneself up with complete confidence to G-d that achieved the victory.”