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The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.

Parshat Ki Taitzay concludes with the positive commandment to eradicate the memory of Amalek. Many enemies of the Jewish people have come and gone over the millennia. What was so unique and heinous about Amalek and their actions that condemned them to this fate? The Talmud tells us that Sancherev dislocated the various peoples from their native lands, and we no longer know who derives from which nation. Does the commandment to eradicate the memory of Amalek apply today?


The Book of Psalms begins with two chapters, Ashray HaIsh and Lamah Ragshu Goyim. Both of these chapters describe rebellion against Hashem, casting off His rule and acting without bounds and restriction. The former speaks of the wicked individual, while the latter relates to the nations that reject Hashem and His anointed one. Chazal say that even though we may print these as two distinct chapters, in reality they are one. They share a common theme, with the distinction that the first chapter relates to the individual while the second refers to community. Rejection of Hashem, including manifestation of destructive and hateful tendencies, can occur at both the individual and communal levels.

One need look no further than the actions of the Nazis, yimach shmam v’zichram, to observe a community acting with utter depravity towards other human beings. This hateful insanity was not just the domain of the group; individuals took this hatred to ever higher levels of inhumanity. However, there was another dimension to this hatred: a hatred of the Jewish people, and their connection with Hashem and morality, that provoked them to greater heights of depravity. Human nature represents a dialectic experience. On the one hand, man was the final creation. He is humbled by the reality that the mosquito preceded him, and he has a brutish nature that must be suppressed. He also possesses the soul and capacities of the celestial beings, to be able to reason right from wrong and act in a noble way. The other nations cannot abide that the Jews represent morality and control over their brutish instincts. That morality is based on our acceptance and adherence to the Torah, distinguishing us as the Chosen People. Russia and many of the Eastern European countries displayed similar hatred to the Jew. Theirs is a bi-level hatred: of the individual Jew as well as Knesset Yisrael, whose consistent morality and adherence to a higher authority indicts them daily for their immorality and debased behavior.

We need look no further than today’s headlines to observe this hatred. Sanctions and indictment of the Jew, holding him to a higher standard, is as common and misplaced as ever. The world is awash with the blood and suffering of so many people, yet Israel and the Jew are singled out for boycott, divestment and sanction. More and more we see cracks in the charade that there is a distinction between anti-Israel and anti-Jew. The Jew irritates them by his adherence to morality that they cannot accept. This is reminiscent to the destruction of the Temple, when the nations of the world descended on Jerusalem to plunder her. Ammon and Moab removed the Cherubim from the Holy of Holies, and libelously mocked the Jews as hypocrites for admonishing others against idolatry while practicing it themselves.

There are nations that exemplify generosity of spirit as a community and as individuals. The United States exemplified such generosity in its treatment of its own citizens, as well as others who sought refuge here. This generosity extended to its entering wars on behalf of distant allies and risking the lives of its citizens. The majority of American soldiers are benevolent by nature. However, there are occasions when they cross a line and act improperly. The Jew has always exemplified sterling character. We established aid societies, guest services wherever we found ourselves, despite a myriad of hardships. We must preserve that character in the diaspora, but especially in Eretz Yisrael. Our challenge, with the inception of the State of Israel, is to remain a moral people, individually and collectively, as we represent an ideal that the world rejects but must ultimately acquiesce to.

The chapter of Lama Ragshu Goyim describes the nations of the world who reject the moral law. The battle of Gog U’Magog will be waged over Jerusalem. The underlying catalyst for this war will be their rejection of the moral law. The events of the last half century appear to point us in the direction of this impending event. The significance of it occurring in Eretz Yisrael should not be misconstrued. Not only our land is to be fought over, but our core beliefs and existence as Jews will be at the center of this conflict. It will be waged at the individual and community level. For ultimately, rejection of Hashem is ipso facto rejection of the Jew, the Jewish community, and Mashiach.

This brings us back to the central role of Amalek in the history and destiny of this conflict. After crossing the Red Sea, Jewish destiny was to receive the Torah, enter Eretz Yisrael and live morally, while setting an unavoidable example for other nations. Amalek could not abide by this. They injected their venom into the Jewish people, impacting and altering their destiny. Amalek was the enemy of Hashem and the morality He demands. Attacking the Jewish People was their act of rebellion against Hashem. Rashi notes that the enemies of Hashem are the enemies of the Jewish People. The chapter of Lama Ragshu Goyim reiterates that idea and extends that hatred to both the Jewish people and Hashem’s anointed Mashiach. Sometimes you find a community that commits atrocities, while some individuals may be conscientious objectors. Other times. you find a group of individuals acting in a way that the community scorns. However, Amalek as community and individuals were committed to ensuring the still-birth of the Jewish People. Their mantra was Lchu v’nach-chidem m’goy, the total eradication of the Jewish Nation. Such a people, collectively and individually, utterly reject the morality represented by Hashem. Hashem, kavayachol, cannot coexist with such a nation. Morality demands that we take a stand against them and erase them. Demonstrating pity to even an individual in such a community, as Saul showed to Agag, will only perpetuate the destruction that identifies them.

The Rav said that even though the genetic Amalek may have disappeared, their philosophy remains intact. The definition of Amalek has applied to various groups through our exile. Undoubtedly the Nazis, yimach shmam v’zichram, qualified as members of this cursed club, that includes countries of Eastern Europe complicit in the destruction of Jewry over the last century. A prominent place in this group is reserved for Hamas, Hezbollah, and their enablers, especially Iran, who is on record already as having openly embraced the Amalek mantra of destroying the Jewish Nation. Anyone whose name is attached to the phrase yimach shmam v’zichram must be considered as Amalek. We anticipate their demise, and the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.


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Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at