artwork: Nicolas Poussin, Joshua Fights Amalek
As they dive into ch. 17, Karl and Daniel talk about sin and evil, and the understanding of Amalek in Judaism. How should we think about and treat our enemies? How should we confront the evil in ourselves? The rabbinic tradition has managed to wring some weighty questions out of a relatively short chapter. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or any other fine podcast distributor, or you can listen to it with the player below. The midrash that Daniel assembled for this episode is beneath the player on this page.
17:11 It came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed (17:11)
Did then the hands of Moses wage war or break war? Not so; but so long as Israel looked upwards and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they prevailed; and when they did not, they fell.
(Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 29a)
(Talmud, Sanhedrin 99b) And Timna was a concubine to Eliphaz, Esau’s son, and she bore to Eliphaz Amalek (36:12)
Manasseh the son of Hezekiah examined Biblical narratives to prove them worthless. Thus he jeered: Had Moses nothing better to write than, “And Lotan’s sister was Timna… And Timna was concubine to Elifaz”?
What, indeed, is the Torah’s purpose in writing, “And Lotan’s sister was Timna”?
Timna was a royal princess, as it is written (Genesis 36:29), “Duke Lotan.” Desiring to become a proselyte, she went to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but they did not accept her. So she went and became a concubine to Elifaz the son of Esau, saying, “I would rather be a servant to this people than a mistress of another nation.” From her was descended Amalek who afflicted Israel. Why so? Because they should not have pushed her away.
The Mitzvah of Amalek
(Rambam) It is a positive command to constantly remember their evil deeds and ambush, to arouse hatred for them, as the verse states, “Remember what Amalek did to you” (v.17). According to Oral Tradition we are taught: “‘Remember’—with your mouths; ‘Do not forget’ (v. 19)—in your hearts,” for it is forbidden to forget the hatred we have for them (Laws of Kings 5:5).
(Sefer Hachinuch) It is sufficient for us to remember the matter once a year, or once in two or three years… If a person never mentioned it with his mouth once in his entire life, then he has transgressed (Mitzvah 603).
Shaloh: It is a great mitzvah to say this passage (v. 17-19) every day to fulfill the mitzvah to “remember”
(Pesikta Rabati 12) “If you do not remember Amalek, you will be sent back to the bondage of Egypt”
(Tanchuma 9) Yet another explanation: an expression denoting heat and cold (קוֹר). He cooled you off and made you [appear] tepid, after you were boiling hot, for the nations were afraid to fight with you, [just as people are afraid to touch something boiling hot]. But this one, [i.e., Amalek] came forward and started and showed the way to others. This can be compared to a bathtub of boiling water into which no living creature could descend. Along came an irresponsible man and jumped headlong into it! Although he scalded himself, he [succeeded to] make others think that it was cooler [than it really was].
(Chasidut) Amalek is the psychological enemy within each of us. The commandment to destroy Amalek teaches us to fight off our own evil impulses as we struggle to live ethical and holy lives.
(Rav Elchanan Samet) In his discussion of this mitzva (Hilkhot Melakhim 6:1-4), the Rambam introduces an important qualification: the first step to be taken in the war against Amalek is to offer them peace! If they accept (which entails accepting the Seven Noachide Laws and paying a tax to the Israelites), “it is forbidden to violate the treaty with them and to deceive them!” How does this fit in with the commandment, “You shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens?” The Rambam explains that the mitzva of destroying Amalek (and the Seven Canaanite Nations) refers only to those who do not accept the option of peace. The Kesef Mishneh further elucidates, “For if they accept upon themselves the Seven Laws, then they are no longer considered as belonging to the category of the Seven Nations or to Amalek, and they are like any upright gentiles.”
(Kesef Mishna) presents a most interesting reason why – ” for if they accept the Seven Noachide Laws they leave the category of the Seven Nations and Amalek and they are like bnei Noach ha’kesharim, righteous non-Jews”.