Latest update: January 27th, 2013
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.”
Rav Hirsch continues, “It is not Amalek who is so pernicious for the moral future of mankind but zecher Amalek, the glorifying of the memory of Amalek which is the danger.” He explains that as long as mankind glorifies those who accomplish their objectives through violence and force Amalek will endure. Only when the divine laws become the sole criterion for the worth of man and society will Amalek finally be vanquished. Only when there is no longer any trace of his nefarious agenda, i.e. his memory is blotted out, will Amalek himself cease to exist.
Klal Yisroel is involved in a perpetual war with Amalek. “Amalek’s greatness lies in ‘destruction.’ Israel’s mission is ‘building,’ the peaceful human building everything earthly up to G-d.” One of the great lessons of the commandment to blot out the memory of Amalek, while at the same time remembering the havoc that he wrought, is to realize that “building” will at times require battle. Our mission to be the nation of builders entails that we be prepared for combat to defend our cause. The war may be fought with an unconventional arsenal of weapons, but it is a war nonetheless.
On September 30, 1938 English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact with Adolph Hitler. The pact, part of the Allies’ efforts at appeasement, granted Hitler the Sudetenland. When he returned to England, Chamberlain addressed throngs of cheering crowds. He concluded his address with haunting words: “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time… Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
The Amalek of our time is as virulent and enmity-filled as ever, but there are many who refuse to see it. We simply have a hard time believing the extent of the evilness of Amalek. How much blood has been spilled trying to pacify and appease Amalekites who have never had intentions of making peace?
Judaism is not a “religion of love”; Judaism is a religion of G-d and fulfillment of the Divine Will. The wisest of men stated,“There is a time to love and a time to hate”. Our mission is to spread holiness and to wage war against those who seek to destroy it.
In the late 1960s during the era of hippies, flower children, and free love, Rav Shlomo Freifeld zt’l told a self-proclaimed “lover of humanity” that he was paying lip service to an ideal that he didn’t really believe in. He continued with a powerful thought: “You say that you are in love with everything. But if nothing makes you angry, then you don’t really love. If you don’t hate you can’t love! Ohavei Hashem sinu rah – those who love G-d abhor evil!”
When someone loves someone passionately he wants to honor and glorify that person as much as possible. If someone dedicates himself to defaming the person he loves, he will inevitably feel disdain for that person. If he doesn’t, his love was not genuine.
Our battle against Amalek has not yet reached its resolution. It serves as a reminder of the capability of man to descend into a state of human beastliness. We maintain our enmity for Amalek, not merely for our own welfare, but because Amalek has dedicated himself to the desecration of all that is holy and Divine. As the years pass Amalek may wear different masks, but his mission has never changed.
Our sages warn that one who has inappropriate mercy for an evil person will end up suffering for it. This was demonstrated quite clearly in the time of Shaul HaMelech. Shaul had been instructed by Shmuel HaNavi to destroy all of Amalek, including all women, children, and animals. Out of compassion Shaul spared the sheep. Shaul did not realize that the Amalekite King, Agag, had magically transformed himself into a sheep and thus escaped the sword. From Agag came Haman, the villain of the Purim story.
The Mishna (Rosh Hashanah 1:1) relates that Tu B’shevat is the New Year for Trees. Every tree’s production during the coming year is decided on that day.
In order to produce growth and vegetation, a farmer knows that it is not enough for him to plant seeds and simply water. He must also pull up the weeds around his vegetation and prune the unnecessary branches on his fruit-bearing trees.
The physical world is a metaphor for the spiritual world. As the Chosen Nation it is not enough for us to engage in altruistic acts of kindness and holiness. We also have an obligation to weed out evil and chop away at those who seek to undermine our message.
A number of years ago I had the opportunity to accompany a friend who was driving Rav Aharon Schechter, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Chaim Berlin, to a wedding. It was shortly after Yasir Arafat had died and I asked the Rosh Yeshiva how a Torah Jew should view his death. Rabbi Schechter replied succinctly by quoting a verse in Mishlei (11:10), “ובאבד רשעים רנה – And when the wicked are destroyed (there is) joy.
Tu B’shevat is not only a holiday in and of itself, but it also ushers in a joyous period of celebration. Tu B’shevat is thirty days prior to Purim (except in a leap year) and Purim is thirty days prior to Pesach, when we begin the count toward our annual (re)acceptance of the Torah on Shavuos. [In fact, there are opinions that directly connect the joy of Tu B’shevat with the imminent days of joy.] The winter may still be casting its bitter cold shadow, but within the trees the sap is beginning its ascent in its preparation for the rebirth of spring.
In a spiritual sense as well, we recommit ourselves to our unyielding love for G-d and His Service and our passionate enmity for those who have committed themselves to its opposition.
The destruction and undermining of evil is a cause for celebration and song. Thus the Shabbos when we read about the destruction of the Egyptians and the weakening of Amalek becomes “Shabbos Shirah,” a Shabbos of song!
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 In 1827, Czar Nicholas I introduced what became known as the Cantonist Decrees. (The name came from the word “canton,” meaning “military camp.”) These decrees called for the forced conscription of Jewish boys into the Russian Army. These boys were between the ages of 12 and 18 and were forced to serve for 25 years! During their army service, every effort was made to convert them to Christianity.
 Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik zt’l (1820-1892), the saintly Rabbi of the town of Brisk and the father of Rabbi Chaim Brisker.
 See Devarim (25:17) “Remember what Amalek did to you on the road when you left Egypt.”
 Winston Churchill commented that “An appeaser is one who feeds acrocodile – hoping it will eat him last”.
 As the Ramban mentioned in his famous debate against the renegade Jew, Pablo Christiani in 1267 in front of Spanish King James I of Aragon, “How much blood has been shed and how much have we suffered at the behest of the so-called “religion of love”?”
 Koheles 3:8
 וַיַּחְמֹל שָאוּל וְהָעָם עַל אֲגָג [שמואל א’ טו:ט]. אמר רבי שמעון בן לוי: כל שהוא אכזר על רחמנין – סוף שהוא נעשה רחמן על אכזרים. כל שהוא רחמן על אכזרים סופו ליפול בחרב
About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.
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