The Destruction of Amalek and the Miracle of Purim

The miracle of Mordechai and Esther declared openly to the whole world that Israel exists under the special Divine Providence of the Holy One Blessed Be He, which means that, unlike the other nations, Israel is not subject to natural forces. By contrast, the essence of the great transgression of Amalek lay in his having been the first of the nations who raised his hand against the throne of the Holy One Blessed Be He as it is written (Exodus 17:16): "A hand upon the throne of the Lord; the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." Thus, after the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea and the manifestation of the miraculous Providence for Israel, Amalek brazenly dared to come from a distance of 400 parsa'ot to in order to deny that all the miracles and wonders that were done in Egypt and on the Red Sea were a manifestation of Divine Providence. And Amalek did so out of a desire to weaken the belief of Israel in Heavenly Providence, which, as our Sages taught, the figure of Jacob is engraved on the throne of glory. It was against this throne symbolizing the Divine Providence for Israel, that Amalek, may his name and memory be erased, dared raise his hand.

"Remember (zakhor) what Amalek did to you" (Deuteronomy 25:17) And in the Midrash they deduced a gezeirah shavah between the "zakhor" that is written concerning what Amalek did and the "zakhor" in "remember (zakhor) the Sabbath day and keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). Now the question arises: what is the connection between the commandment to remember the Sabbath and that to remember Amalek? How are these commandments related to each other? But according to our explanation that the Sabbath commemorates the giving of the Torah on Sinai, which occurred on the Sabbath, the connection is very clear. For on the Sabbath on which the Torah was given, the Holy One Blessed Be He made a covenant with Israel for Israel to become a "holy" nation, in other words a people separate and apart from other nations. To commemorate this covenant, we are commanded to "remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy," which means to remember the great event that took place on the Sabbath on which the Torah was given. Because Amalek was the first nation that dared raise its hand against the throne of glory, i.e., against the belief in the Divine Providence, we are commanded to remember what Amalek did to us when we were leaving Egypt, just when the Holy One Blessed Be He raised His great hand to show His miraculous and special Providence for Israel, for which purpose all the miracles and wonders and all the changes in the natural order were accomplished in Egypt and on the sea. That is why our Sages deduced a gezeira shavah to tie together the commandments to remember the Sabbath day and to remember what Amalek did, for both commandments, as I have explained, express a single idea: the special relationship that exists between the Eternal and Israel.

In the Abrabanel's commentary on the Torah you will find in his holy words the essential point of our explanation of the sin of Amalek.

In every generation, the wicked of the nations of the world, descended from Amalek in their hatred for Israel, rise up to deny the belief in the Divine Providence for the Holy Nation, the Chosen People. And this battle is a continuation of the war of Amalek in each generation, in every era until today.

Was not the terrible destruction, the greatest holocaust in all history, the work of Amalek? During this terrible period, was not the throne of glory, as it were, tottering? The faith of Israel - even among the best of them - was shaken. In all the sections of Israel - even in the camp of the devout - the awful question was being raised to the heavens (Ezekiel 11:13): "Wilt Thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?" "Why should the nations say: 'where is their G-d'?" (Psalms 79:10) Just as Moses said after the sin of the golden calf (Exodus 32:12): "Why should the Egyptians say, 'With evil intent did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'?"

In the sin of Amalek, therefore, was embedded the root and the foundation of the sin of the golden calf. The deed of Amalek, whose arrows were aimed against the belief in Divine Providence, did succeed. For the mixed multitude was drawn after the seductions of Amalek. The words of Rashi, taken from the Midrash in porashat Ki Teitzei, are correct:

"Who attacked you on the way" (asher qorkha ba-derekh). "Qorkha" is derived from the root "qor" (cold), and signifies that Amalek cooled you and moderated your temperature. For all the nations were afraid to do battle with you, as if you were a boiling tub of water into which no creature dared enter. But then some worthless man jumped into the tub, and even though he was scalded, he cooled off the water for others to enter into.

And I add that not only did Amalek cool off Israel in the estimation of others, but to some extent he also cooled off Israel in their own estimation, as our Sages say concerning the verse (Exodus 17:8): "Then came Amalek and did battle with Israel at Rephidim" that their hands were weakened in the study of Torah. The meaning is that their faith in Divine Providence was weakened, for it was upon this faith that the covenant with Israel was made at Horeb, as is explained in our holy Torah in porashat Ki Tavo and in the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah 29a

"And it came to pass,when Moses held up his hand that Israel prevailed" (Exodus 17:11). Now did the hands of Moses wage war or crush the enemy? Not so; only the text signifies that so long as Israel turned their thoughts above and subjected their hearts to their Father in heaven they prevailed

This Mishnah teaches us that, as long as the faith of Israel is strong and steadfast that we are the children of the Lord our G-d, our Father in heaven, who looks after Israel, the people who are close to Him, with a special care, then no nation can rule over us and our enemies be clothed in shame, and upon us will shine the brightness of royal crown of the King on high.

But the throne of the Holy One Blessed Be He cannot be secure as long as the memory of Amalek is not erased, that is, until that false belief that places Israel into the same category as all the other nations in opposition to what Balaam said in his prophecy (Numbers 23:9): "A people that will dwell alone and will not be counted among the nations." So also did Moses say in his song in porashat Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32:12): "The Lord alone did lead him, and there was no foreign god with him." (See what the holy Nachmanides wrote there about that verse.) And insofar as this belief is strengthened in Israel, Amalek is uprooted from beneath the heavens, his name is erased, and the throne of the Holy One Blessed Be He is secured and made whole.

We have not yet come, we have not yet merited, to this - the throne of the Holy One Blessed Be He has not yet been made whole. There are still Amalekites in our generation who direct their arrows toward Israel and its faith. And owing to our many transgressions, even among our own brothers there are to be found many who deny and dispute this belief in Divine Providence. But little by little, knowledge will increase and faith will be strengthened and the protection of its wings will be spread over the entire nation, holy Israel, who will be saved by the Eternal through our faith in Him and in His Divine Providence for ever and ever. For as long as Israel subject their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they will prevail and the memory of Amalek will be erased from beneath the Heavens.

The days of Purim, which showed clearly to the whole world that the Divine Providence is spread over the people of Israel, will not fail, nor the memory of these days perish from their descendants. Haman, the descendant of Amalek, wanted to uproot Israel and to drive from the world the belief in Divine Providence. [Translator's note: Hence the name "Purim," lots or chance.] And in the end his decree for the destruction of Israel was reversed to joy and light, and many of the Gentiles became Jewish because they were overcome by awe of the Jews. Similarly, when Amalek made war on Israel, Jethro, instead of being chilled by hearing about this war, came to convert and attach himself to Israel, saying (Exodus 18:11): "Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, for in the thing where they dealt proudly he was above them." And how correct and exalted are the words of the Midrash Rabbah in porashat Yitro (Exodus Rabbah 27:6)

It is written, "Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence" (Proverbs 19:25), and also "When the scorner is punished, the simple becomes wise" (Id. 21:11). Amalek and Jethro were of the advisers of Pharaoh; but when Jethro beheld that G-d had wiped out Amalek both from this world and the next, he felt remorse and repented, for first it says, "For I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (Exodus 17:14), and then "Now Jethro . . . heard (Id. 18:1). Said he: "The only thing for me to do is to join the G-d of Israel."

The worst punishment for the pursuer and the enemy is that not only does he fail to achieve his objective to defeat and subdue his opponent, but that, by virtue of his campaign, his opponent is uplifted and strengthened, and rather than destroying and annihilating, his curse becomes a blessing. This punishment is the greatest lesson that can awaken a person to repentance, to reflect upon and to renounce his actions, so that he may be healed. And that is the essential purpose of any punishment, for He does not wish the death of the transgressor, but his repentance, so that he may live after regretting the evil that he has done and the transgression that his heart and his evil inclination have incited him to do. As our Sages teach us (Yoma 86a)

Great is penitence, for it brings healing to the world, as it is said: "I will heal their backsliding, I will love then, freely" (Hosea 14:5).

The Amalekite Satan, the source of all hatreds and distress that oppress the downtrodden people of Israel, long ago began to plant in the world the wickedness of the nations toward Israel. The evil spirit of Amalek still dances in the world among all the nations, and it is known that Esau hates Israel. Every day, constantly, we wait for the world to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the oceans. We wait for the realization of the vision of the prophet Hosea (14:6-7)

I will be as the dew to Israel; he shall flower like the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like the Lebanon. Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive like the grain, and blossom like the vine; their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.