Photo Credit: Jewish Press

On Shabbat Zachor 5702, the second full year in the Warsaw Ghetto, the Aish Kodesh spoke of the mitzvah to destroy the memory of Amalek. In the Torah we learn that when Moshe raised his hands up, Israel triumphed over our enemies, but if he put them down, then our enemies prevailed. In the Mishna Rosh Hashana (3:8), we learn that this taught Israel to look up on high to our Father in Heaven so that He would intervene on our behalf. The Aish Kodesh wonders about this passage: Is it really necessary for one to look up in order to rely on Divine salvation?

There is a much deeper matter at issue in these passages. At times, the Divine attribute of mercy is at work in the world, engineering events and driving history. The righteous get their reward and the wicked are punished and Israel dwells in security within our borders. But sometimes, due to some iniquity or imbalance in the spiritual state of Israel and the world, the Divine attribute of judgment is unleashed to punish the wicked. This happened, for example, to the generation of the Flood when Hamas (chamas – violence) became so prevalent in the world that everything had to be destroyed. In such a time as this, it is not uncommon for the righteous to be caught up in the wave of retribution and to suffer directly or indirectly from its depredations. We learn of this too when Egypt is smitten on the night of the final plague and the Jews are warned not to venture out of their homes, lest they be caught up in the slaughter.

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The power of Amalek is not limited to the physical destruction they seek to bring upon Israel. Amalek’s chief ambition is to destroy Israel morally and spiritually. They attack us where we are weakest; they attack the weakest among us because they want to break our will. Amalek hates the body of Israel, certainly, but they chiefly hate our spirit. They hate that we are unique among nations, that we are designated servants to our Divine King, the King of all Kings. Above all, Amalek wants Israel to be brought low and made common – for us to be another nation among the nations, no different from any other. All of their malice and all of their violence is focused against us with this end in mind.

At times, when judgment is unleashed in the world, this has the effect of sowing doubt among the weakest of us, and some people in the face of such adversity abandon their faith in Hashem; they cease to obey His edicts and to perform His mitzvot. Amalek craves mayhem – they desire the proliferation of evil so that the Divine judgment will drag Israel down along with the wicked. They are even willing, in fact eager, to sacrifice themselves because as much as Israel hopes to uplift the whole world through our righteousness, Amalek hopes to drag us down through their cruelty and depravity, and with us everything good and noble. This, then, is the true danger of Amalek – it isn’t the physical destruction but the spiritual destruction that accompanies and is integral to it.

The Aish Kodesh teaches that the Jewish person looks up to heaven precisely in times of the greatest adversity. When we are tormented and degraded and when all our hope is failing, it is precisely at times such as these that we find the strength to hope and we find strength in our hope. It is only too easy, The Aish Kodesh says of his own generation, to see the torment and destruction of everyone that is dear to us, the desecration of the holy and the disruption of our rituals and observances. At times like this, it is human nature to despair and to give oneself over to nihilism and utter helplessness. Indeed, there is even a comfort in surrendering to misery because in embracing our defeat, we also abdicate any responsibility to strive against the terrible forces that are arrayed against us.

But this is precisely the vector of redemption: It is in precisely such a moment that the power of redemption can be released into the world and that every individual can become an agent of Divine salvation. When we hope in the face of despair, when we turn to Hashem, raising our eyes to heaven, out of abject misery and degradation, this is the mechanism that draws Divine mercy down into our world from the highest source of all good.

First, every G-d-fearing individual must embrace the opportunity of living in such a time of trial and of suffering, of being a witness to destruction, and of being one of those who remains faithful to Hashem and clings to the certainty of the ultimate redemption. This, of course, was the message of Mordechai and Esther. But the Torah commands us to destroy the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. This mitzvah is prefaced by the statement that Hashem will place us in our land and liberate us from all physical threats from the enemies that surround us. We will possess the land and inherit it (Devarim 25:19). Only then are we commanded to destroy the memory of Amalek, and not to forget to do this.

The Aish Kodesh explains that the damage caused by Amalek is not only to our bodies. They don’t only torture us and kill us and burn us and burn our homes and our sanctuaries. Long after the physical enemies have been defeated and their own bodies have been destroyed, the seeds, as he describes them (as Haman was of the seed of Amalek), continue to germinate and grow in insidious ways. The spiritual corruption, the doubt that they sowed when they were afflicting us, lives on in the weakest among us. Until every Jewish person rises above the personal and collective trauma, and looks up to Heaven whence our salvation comes, the power of Amalek is still felt in Israel.

For this reason, it isn’t enough to simply destroy the body of Amalek, just as Amalek is never satisfied merely to destroy the bodies of Jews. We must destroy the memory of Amalek, because only then will the people of Israel be united as one people under the Kingship of Heaven. Only then will the throne of Hashem be complete in His universe (Rashi Shemot 17:16, following Tanchuma Ki Tetze 11).


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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at redemptionmedia.net/creation. He can be reached by email at [email protected].