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This Shabbos we take out a second sefer Torah to read about the commandment to remember Amalek and his treacherous ambush of the Children of Israel after their exodus from Egypt.

On the surface, reading this section is part of fulfilling the commandment to eradicate all of Amalek’s descendants. Yet, the Rambam states that this obligation rests on Jewish kings, not individuals. Moreover, ever since the Assyrian king Sancheriv “mixed up [the peoples of] the world,” identifying Amalek’s descendants has become impossible, so even if we want to eradicate Amalek’s descendants, we can’t.

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If so, why do we have a special Shabbos every year on which we read about Amalek?

To answer this question, we must differentiate between eradicating Amalek, which cannot actually be fulfilled at present, and remembering Amalek, which can be fulfilled.

Chabad Chassidus explains that Amalek represents a person who “knows his Master yet intends to rebel against him.” The commandment to remember Amalek calls on us to rid ourselves of any inclination toward this kind of behavior.

Parshas Zachor tells us that Amalek “happened upon you on the way – asher korchah baderech.” One of Rashi’s explanations of the word “korchah” is that Amalek cooled us off (“kar” means cold). On a spiritual level, that means that when the Amalek tendency of “knowing Hashem, yet rebelling against Him” affects us – even slightly – it “cools off” our ardor in serving Hashem so that we no longer relate to Hashem with the same warmth and enthusiasm as before.

This idea is reflected in the gematriya of Amalek, which is the same as that of “safek” (doubt). When our warmth and enthusiasm in serving Hashem cools off (as can easily happen to all of us when we are distracted by personal problems – relating to health, family, or livelihood – or are over-involved in daily affairs), Amalek tries to throw doubts into our minds about Hashem’s ability to help us or about miracles He performed for us or others.

Amalek’s original attack came “on the way when you came out of Egypt” – before the Torah was given. In other words, his attack was intended to prevent the innovation that came with the revelation of the Torah, which was that the Torah would no longer remain on the purely spiritual level in Heaven, as the angels had demanded, but would descend to us in this world so that we could observe Torah and mitzvos on a practical, physical plain.

Amalek “knew his Master.” He didn’t oppose knowing about Hashem. What he opposed was allowing that awareness to descend to the level of feelings so that it would affect our lives practically. He advocated the ultimate chutzpah – knowing about Hashem, yet rebelling against Him.

When we work on eliminating this Amalek tendency from within ourselves so that our understanding positively affects our emotions and practice, we thereby prepare ourselves for receiving the Torah from Hashem, which requires a constant sense of naaseh v’nishma – accepting the yoke of Divine authority without question.

And that in turn will help bring Moshiach, who, as the ultimate Jewish king, will actually eradicate Amalek, followed by the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash. May it begin now!

(Based on teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)

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Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman is director of the central Lubavitch Youth Organization and a weekly columnist for The Jewish Press.
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