Remember Amalek…Don’t Forget
(1) Remember….(2) to blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens….(3) Do not forget!
Who is this Amalek that three of our 613 mitzvot revolve around him? And how do we “remember to eliminate the memory of something while also never forgetting it?” Isn’t that self-contradictory?
The Torah accords Amalek the mysterious distinction as “First of the nations…” [ראשית גוים עמלק…]. The midrash explains that this is because Amalek was the first tribe to assault the Israelites in their journey to Sinai. The wonders that accompanied Israel’s exodus from Egypt proved God’s love for them, yet Amalek was undeterred. Without a trace of compunction, its soldiers attacked straight away. Amalek’s distinction as “first” to assault Israel (God’s chosen ones) attests to its rotten core. In the Torah’s lexicon of symbols Amalek becomes the token of pure evil.
Many nations warred against Israel, yet Amalek gets singled out. This defining incident marks the Amalekim for all time. One of the most difficult assessments a judge makes is whether the felon will use a reprieve to alter the course of his life for good (through teshuva). Or whether he’ll harden his criminal ways because he got away with it this time. In response to Amalek’s attack HaShem declares: “I will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens.” With these words the Wise-and-Compassionate-Judge-Who-Sees-Hearts-and-Does-not-Err is clear that Amalek will not mend its ways….that its citizens are incapable of teshuva.
When Moshe recounts this incident he chooses a Hebrew word that conveys a variety of associations all of which apply and add richness to the tale. He employs the root קרה to describe Amalek’s surprise attack.
 אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ
“…He met you on the way…” As if it were a happenstance (מקרה), a chance event.
Yet the two strong letters of that root, קר, also mean cold. The Torah hints that the trait of “coldness” characterizes Amalek. In Torah psychology a cold soul is indifferent to Spirit, phony in observance, and lacks empathy. The Baal Shem Tov would place his hand on the heart of children and say, “The most important thing is have a warm heart.” Devekut requires heat. In modern psychology a lack of empathy, remorse and genuine warmth associates with psychopathy—a criminal disposition with a grim prognosis, for without remorse there is no teshuva. And without teshuva, change does not stick.
Though there is no longer a nation called Amalek today, they maintain a presence on the inner planes where they left viable spores that, under favorable conditions, still do quicken, sprout and take root. These seedpods float through history, looking for friendly “soil,” infecting those who are susceptible to it cold-hearted contagion—individuals and nations alike. Nazi Germany is the textbook case but there are societies today that display clear symptoms of this chilling pestilence.
But the mystery of Amelek goes deeper still, for unless we are grappling with paradox we do not have the full picture.
The Torah begins with the verse: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…
בראשית ברא א/להים…
The first letter of the Torah—the ב’ (meaning “in”) is extra large, and thus hints to an alternative reading. The midrash interprets the ב’ as a contraction for the Hebrew word bishvil (for the sake of), which changes the meaning of the phrase to: “For the sake of reshit [which means first] God created the heavens and the earth.”
The obvious question becomes what is this reshit that is singled out as the purpose of it all? There is no greater honor than to be deemed the pinnacle of creation. The midrash searches the Bible and brings two answers: The universe is created for the sake of the Torah which is called reshit in Proverbs 8:22, and for the sake of Israel, who are called reshit in Jeremiah 2:3. The Or HaChayim expands the list but explains how all of the unmentioned reshits (wisdom, fear, Temple offerings) are subcategories of the Torah and are thus included in that entry.
Conspicuously absent from all of these lists is Amalek, who is clearly called reshit in the verse cited above. [ראשית גוים עמלק…]. And while the other reshits (Torah and Israel) connect to less authoritative sections of the Bible, Amalek’s link to reshit derives from the Torah itself. It is not bona fide to leave Amalek out of the list. If the world was created for reshit, then Amalek is part of that privileged class. Yet how can that be true?
It only makes sense because these three reshits actually comprise a single entity, the cosmic other, called the Shekhina that is the whole point of creation. Before genesis, the infinite One lacked nothing except, in some mysterious sense, the experience of actualized relationship, because there was no other with whom to relate.
Yet this novelty, called relationship, is paradoxical to its core. Defined as “the association of two or more things,” a consummate relationship is when the couple yearns to merge as one. They are soulmates—conjoined in their root—and they long to express that unity in the corporeal world. Yet if they would succeed in that desire, their relationship would cease. The pleasure (and adventure) of encountering an other would disappear the minute they fused into one big conglomerate self.
It follows that the boundaries blocking their merger, contribute as much to the vitality of their relationship, as their passionate drive to unite as one. These two competing tendencies scuffle within the relationship and each has moments when it prevails. The couple alternates between merging and differentiating in a pattern that can actually be mapped. This becomes the heart-print or cardiogram of their particular union.
Since the purpose of creation is to actualize the potential of relationship, this brings us back to our three reshits.
1) Israel: The sumtotal of creation—its gestalt—is called the Shekhina. She is the cosmic other (the chidush of creation) that enables the tango of relationship to occur. The inner soul core of this universe-encompassing Shekhina is Kenesset Yisrael, the mystical body of Israel—distinguished by one thing alone: The capacity to understand what it means that G-d is one on the deepest possible level. Yet since relationship is forged by “seeing and being seen, knowing and being known,” and since the deepest truth of Divinity is Its Oneness, this feature of the Jewish soul enables Israel to enter a level of intimacy with HaShem that is the ultimate fulfillment of relationship and, by extension, the ultimate achievement of the purpose of creation.
2) Torah: At the heart of the Torah are 613 revelations of Divine will called mitzvot. The Zohar depicts them as 613 limbs of the King. When we feel thirsty and our hand grabs for water it functions as an instrument of our will and parallels our connection to HaShem when we perform a mitzvah. HaShem expressed a desire for this deed to occur, and we willingly comply. In that moment our existential state of separation dissolves, our wills merge, and we become nothing but a limb of the King (a hand reaching for water, so to speak). This is the ultimate achievement of devekut (of fusion with HaShem). In the rhythm of merging and differentiating that marks our relationship with G-d, Torah is the force of merger. It provides the context, pressure and opportunities to merge.
3) Amalek: Evil is defined as the illusion of other than G-d. The word “illusion” is significant, since nothing is really apart from God for “God is one.” This is not necessarily (or even primarily) an ethical matter. Evil manifests on the physical plane as the opaque skin or shell that surrounds each sliver of soul and separates it from everything else. This creates the appearance of many which supports the illusion of other-than-God. This is not a moral judgment but a simple fact.
A concise synonym for evil is delusion, and Amalek is its prophet. Evil is the spin doctor that conjures illusion and dissembles truth. And yet, it is precisely this talent for fabrication that is evil’s whole point and valued contribution to the world. It is the tool HaShem employed to do exactly that, to create our world ex nihilo, something from nothing. It is the scalpel He wielded to carve us out as a freestanding other that would function as a cosmic soulmate to the Holy One.
Consequently, in the alternation between merging and differentiating that defines our relationship with HaShem, Amalek is the force that disrupts devekut, distracts us from G-d, undermines faith, inflates ego, promulgates lies, instigates lust, hardens hearts, fans hatred, incites wars, provokes rebellion, dampens resolutions, etc. His strategies to keep us differentiated are legion. Amalek makes sure the boundaries between us and HaShem stay strong…for better and for worse. His job is to hold that pole and not relent.
Amalek rightly claims its distinction as reshit for it provides a service that is absolutely critical to the purpose of creation. But if that be so, why is Amalek so vilified? The answer is because, although Amalek does the Shekhina’s dirty work, he has gotten very dirtied by it. And because of the (perhaps unavoidable) pain, suffering, shame, heresy and destruction produced in his wake. And because of the perverse delight he seems to take in all that. And because he seems to go overboard and choose harsh measures when gentler ones could have sufficed. In short, because of his cold heart.
The question becomes, who is responsible for that. The Talmud reports that Timna the mother of Amalek was a Horite princess (in Yakov’s generation) who was deeply impressed by the Israelite tribe and sought to convert: “Better that I should be a maidservant to these great men, then a princess among the Horites.” For various technicalities of halacha, the patriarchs refused her and pushed her away. Their rejection of her noble aspirations was arguably cold-hearted. The Talmud rebukes them and reports that they were punished for their error. As a consequence of their rebuff, Timna gave birth to Amalek—the sadistic enemy of Israel and archetype of evil in the universe.
Who knows what might have transpired had Timna been permitted to convert. It is possible that our cosmic battle with Amalek is one big tikun for the repercussions of that well-meaning but cold-hearted act. It is possible that our multi-millennial war with Amalek is the mechanism HaShem devised to circumcise our collective and individual hearts. It is possible that we could have differentiated through more subtle methods closer to what will be in messianic times when Amalek ceases, boundaries grow transparent, and we dance into the sunset, still merging and differentiating with our Creator.
Whatever might have been, our present scenario with Amalek is a duel to the death. Their mission statement rallies for our complete destruction. We are indignant but the fact remains, our charter calls for their annihilation as well.
Amalek has adapted to its mission as the archetype of evil. It pushes that agenda at all costs. Every other creature has at least a sliver of soul, a ray of God that dwells within and sustains its life. Yet there are hollow men, who absorb their life juice through their skin. They feed off the sparks that fly from the clash of matter and psyches in conflict. They are chronic provocateurs, for their survival requires exactly this. If conflict would cease, so would they, for they have no inner wellspring from which to draw life. These empty creatures with a void at their core are the spiritual offspring of Amalek.
Every fleck of soul must (and will) be redeemed and in some form live eternal. Only Amalek, with its hollow core, is truly subject to death. Amalek plays its role so well it seals its own demise. And yet, against all odds, Amalek actually does snake its way into the world-to-come…and we are its carriers. The Torah instructs us to hold Amalek in our memory for eternity…and to never forget it. Every mitzvah has some eternally enduring expression…including the mitzvah to remember Amalek. When we step into eternity, Amalek comes along with. The midrash is shocked, for memory is the mind’s inner chamber—its holy of holies. The Torah commands us to bring Amalek into that sacred space…forever. The midrash laments “Remember the Shabbath….Remember Amalek…as if they are on equal footing…as if they have earned equal fates?”
Now, when we remember Amalek, we remember that there is evil in the world that must not be tolerated. We remember the trail of tears that Amalek’s psychopathic heirs leave in their wake. We remember that there are those who talk nice, and offer glib apologies, but are incapable of real remorse and will exploit our trust. We remember that we are in a duel to the death and need to watch our back.
But that might not always be so. When we get to the other side and absorb our full measure of compensation—the wisdom and blessings earned from grappling with Amalek—it is possible that our cost-benefit calculations might invert. When the curtain parts and we finally see “from one end of the world to its other,” our perspective on Amalek might just shift. Perhaps he was an undercover agent, posing as an archenemy of Israel (and G-d) but actually serving both of their interests. In keeping us differentiated he sacrificed his reputation (in this world) and his portion in the world-to-come, and all the while he was serving our common cause—the reshit that is his raison d’etre. It is possible that our eternal remembrance of Amalek will turn from hatred to gratitude from our new perch, “above heaven,” when we glimpse the treasure amassed from our massive effort “to obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.”
In this month of Adar, when joy abounds and Amalek flounders, may we seize the moment to orient our pleasure buds toward spiritual delights. The only way to get rid of Amalek is to outgrow him, and that is the way do it. When our first choice and genuine desire is (coincidentally) exactly what HaShem prefers from us, then we are both merged and differentiated at the same time. We are merged because “things are close when they are similar and distant when they are different” and since, in this case, our will and HaShem’s will are the same, we are fused on the level of will. We are differentiated because we are following our own genuine desire, acting on our own authentic preference. We have not suppressed our truth to please an other.
HaShem, please prosper our path. Help us to recognize the most spiritually productive option in each moment and to choose it with a whole heart. On the inner front, that is the key to Amalek’s demise.
GET UP! STAND UP! DON’T GIVE UP THE FIGHT!
Deut. 25: The 189th mitzvah is that we are commanded to constantly1 remember what Amalek did to us, i.e. that he was the first to attack us [after we were redeemed from Egypt]; and to speak of it constantly; to arouse people to wage war against them and hate them, in order that it not be forgotten or the hatred towards them lessened with the passage of time.…
Deut. 25:19 The 188th mitzvah is that we are commanded to wipe out — from among all the descendants of Esav — the descendants of Amalek, male and female, young and old..
The 59th prohibition is that we are forbidden from forgetting what the descendants of Amalek did to us, i.e. tht they were the first to attack us [after we were redeemed from Egypt].
Rashi brings Targum Onkeles on Num. 24.20.
Concerning the 5th book of the Torah, Devarim, the Talmud says that the Shekhina spoke through the throat of Moshe. The idea, says R. Tsadok, is that Moshe was a more active participant in that prophesy than in the previous four books. For this reason, Devarim is the root, within the Written Torah, of the Oral Torah.
 Deut. 25:18.
Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Teitze, 9.
 R. Tsadok HaKohen, Yisrael Kedoshim, chapter 8 (p. 97, first edition).
 Rashi on Gen. 1:1.
BR 1:1, 1:6 (Torah); Vayikra Rabba 36:4 (Israel).
Or HaChayim, Gen. 1:1.
This subject is discussed at length in Kabbalsitic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine, authored by Sarah Yehudit Schneider and published by A Still Small Voice.
 This is why Adam, who is Israel, is closely linked with the Torah, of which it is said, It is a tree of life to those who take hold on it; this tree is the Matron, the Sefirah Malkhuth (Kingship), through their connection with which Israel are called sons of kings. 27b ובג״ד אדם דאינון ישראל. אית לון יחודא באורייתא. דאתמר בה (משלי ג יח) עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה. ואיהי מטרוניתא מלכות. דמסטרהא אתקריאו ישראל בני מלכים.
 Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 30.
 TB San. 99b.
 Rif (R. Yitzchak Al-fasi), Ein Yakov, San 99b (ד”ה בעיא).
Who knows who Amalek is, really, in these times…but just for the sake of example: Hitler’s final solution called for the elimination of the entire Jewish race (at great sacrifice and expense to his own). And the the sixth sentence of Hamas’s Charter reads: “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it…”
 Mitzvah #188 (see footnote 2 above).
 Leshem, HaDrush Olam HaTohu (HDOH), chelek 2, drush 4, anaf 22, siman 5.
 Leshem, HDOH, chelek 2, drush 4, anaf 18, siman 7.
 Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Teitze, 7 (as developed by Ohaiv Yisrael (Avraham Yehoshua Heschel), Parashat Zachor v’Purim.
 R. YYY Safrin of Komarna. Ketem Ofir (his commentary on Megilat Esther that appears at the end of Heichal HaBracha, Shmot). 5:14 (יעשה עץ). R. Safrin says that Haman is called צורר היהודים because he caused the souls of Israel to become: צרורה בצרור החיים את ה’ (bundled in a bundle of life with HaShem). Also the Rebbe discusses this process of hatred turning to gratitude in relation to enemies in general. He does not apply it to Amalek, but he also does not exclude Amalek from the discussion. Netiv Mitzvotecha, Netiv HaYichud, shvil 6, ot 3. Translated by Sarah Yehudit Schneider, You Are What You Hate, especially sub-section 11, p. 174-178 (but throughout the entire Section IV of the book).
 Bob Marley