War with Amalek

The mind, body, and soul of hating evil

By: Rabbi Dovid Samuels

One of the most basic and fundamental principles regarding the fulfilment of the mitzvos of the Torah is that each mitzvah has three aspects to it: machshava – thought; dibbur – speech; and maaseh – action. For example, when we approach the mitzvah of Tefillin, the contemplation of the meaning behind the mitzvah and our pure intentions occupy the realm of thought; the blessing we make just before the placement occupies the realm of speech, and the actual laying of the Tefillin occupies the realm of action. But one mitzvah which stands in stark contrast to this general rule is the mitzvah of ‘mechias Amalek’ – wiping out the memory of Amalek. The Sefer HaChinuch[1] (the anonymously authored Book of Mitzvah Education) lists, as three separate mitzvos, the verbal, mental, and physical performance of wiping out the memory of Amalek. In Mitzvah 603 we are commanded to remember what Amalek did to us on the path out of Mitzrayim by verbally recounting the event. In Mitzvah 604, we are commanded to physically eradicate Amalek from this world. Finally, in Mitzvah 605, we are commanded to remember “in our hearts” what they did to us. Whereas, normally, these three facets would be present in each single mitzvah, in the case of Amalek, the Chinuch lists each aspect as its own separate mitzvah; one in thought, one in speech, and one in action.

The Ba’al HaAkeidah[2] points out another observation regarding this mitzvah. Normally, a mitzvah based in thought materialises in an action to facilitate the mental fulfilment. For example, remembering all of the mitzvos of the Torah is fulfilled by the action of wearing Tzitzis, which aide a person in remembering. So too, the “remembrance” of our service of Hashem which we are supposed to have in front of us all the time is achieved by the placement of Tefillin on our head, “between our eyes”. However, as the Chinuch points out, remembering the event with Amalek is not fulfilled by performing any action. It exists purely in the realm of thought.

So, the Bnei Yissaschar[3] asks the obvious question: What is the point of remembering an event that happened so long ago if there is no way of physically eradicating Amalek in our days?

To this, the Bnei Yissaschar provides an amazing, but mystical explanation. Our Torah teaches us[4]: “Guard yourselves from every bad thing.” Our Sages teach us[5] that this is an admonition against thinking of doing something forbidden during the day, as this will cause impurity by night. The Kabbalists explain this in a spectacular way: When one transgresses Hashem’s Torah, a spiritual force is created – an angel – that is there to prosecute against the transgressor. This angel is made up of a body and a soul, metaphysically speaking. The thought of sin creates the ‘soul’ of the angel, and the action of sin creates the ‘body’ of the angel. Together, there is a complete angel to prosecute against the transgressor. With the soul alone, powered by a person’s impure thought, the angel exerts itself excessively to “clothe” itself, and thus, almost inevitably, the person responsible for this evil thought will be led to an improper action, providing the angel with its ‘body’.

If this is true in the negative, all the more so is it true in the positive, as Hashem created this world with ‘good’ always outweighing ‘bad’. We are taught[6]: Even if a person thinks to do a mitzvah but, due to extenuating circumstances, he is unable to see it through, Hashem considers it as if the action was fulfilled. As has been explained, the positive thought creates the ‘soul’ of an angel. This angel, unlike the one mentioned above, is set on defending and advocating for the one who created him, and he searches for the ‘body’ in which to clothe himself, fuelling and even pushing the thinker to bring his positive thoughts to action. This is the real power of positive thinking.

Surely, the real redemption, which we hope to see soon, will bring with it an actual eradication of Amalek – the physical representation of impurity in our world. But, since we are unable to do this, we are charged with fulfilling the idea of this mitzvah – in the realm of thought. Every time we utilise our minds to remember what Amalek did to us, Hashem’s people – the representation of purity in this world – this will, according to the explanation of the Kabbalists, create an army of positive angels. These angels are, however, without garments. They are without a body, and they will exert all their energy to bring about a situation where they will be clothed. This can only come about through the physical fulfilment of the thought; through the actual eradication of Amalek. Knowing that this is something that is reserved for the final redemption, these angels will advocate for us, in front of Hashem, that He bring the final redemption and, with it, the destruction of Amalek and the forces of impurity in this world and then, finally, the angels will be whole.

With this mystical explanation of the Bnei Yissaschar, we can now understand why the mitzvah to remember Amalek is different from all other mitzvos in that the obligation of thought is separate from the obligation of action. If the obligation to wipe out Amalek was, like other mitzvos, one single mitzvah incorporating thought, speech, and deed together, then in our days, where the action is not applicable, we would be exempt from the whole mitzvah and we wouldn’t give it much thought. Now, however, Hashem commands us to think. He wants us to remember how they fought us, how they fought against Him, how they worked at weakening our connection to Hashem and His Torah and bringing impurity into the world. Hashem wants us to yearn for the day when Amalek will truly be just a memory, and by doing so we will create battalions of advocating angels, desiring, as we do, the final redemption, so that they, as well as we, can reach perfection. So Hashem commands us, in a separate, stand-alone mitzvah, to do in thought now that which we will one day be able to also do in action.

Taking this idea a step further, the Beis Aharon[7] explains that the reason why we have three separate mitzvos dealing with remembering and wiping out Amalek – in mind, speech, and deed – is because the effect of Amalek is felt in all three areas of ourselves: our minds, our hearts, and our bodies. Amalek, and the idea they represent, attacks us mentally – prohibiting us from thinking in a G-dly way; in our hearts – by cooling down our passion to attain spirituality and perfection of self; and bodily – by driving us to corrupt ourselves physically. So we wage war, physically, verbally, and mentally – with every aspect of our beings – against any impurity that would lead us away from serving Hashem. We are commanded to physically erase Amalek…but we are unable to fulfil it yet. Still, we are charged with verbalising the event, but only once a year. We are commanded, however, to remember – in our minds and our hearts – all of the time.

Given that the mitzvah to physically fight against Amalek doesn’t apply at this moment of history, who exactly are we thinking about when we fulfil the mitzvah of remembering? The answer to this is found in the Chinuch mentioned above. Amalek, today, is any impediment on the road to Divine service and coming close to Hashem. Any character trait, any habit, any thought, or any response which leads us away from, or even merely prevents us from drawing close to Hashem has Amalek’s fingerprint on it. A person will need a certain level of sophistication and training to identify all the activities of Amalek in his life, and he needs to dedicate time and effort to identifying and annihilating this venom from his mind and body. He should analyse his shortcomings and hate that which is causing himself to fail; in any and every area of Jewish life. A person who wages a war against Amalek will not rest until he has perfected himself and places himself in line with the life that Hashem wants for him. As King David said[8], “The ones who love Hashem, hate evil.” Our success in this inner war is dependent on how much we love our Creator.

On the Shabbos before Purim – Parshas Zachor – we are given an opportune moment to achieve victory in this battle against Amalek. We are commanded to read from the Torah the episode of our battle against Amalek. We recall how they brazenly attacked us; targeting those amongst us who were most vulnerable (not only physically, but spiritually). They saw our weaknesses, and they went relentlessly against them. At Purim, Hashem saved us miraculously from the wicked hands of one of Amalek’s family members: Haman. A descendant of King Agag, who King Sha’ul let live, rose to power and sought, again, to wipe out the chosen nation. But we used the time preceding that fateful day – the day of the Final Solution – to draw close to Hashem in fasting, repentance, and prayer. We were physically weakened, but we were spiritually fortified. We increased our dedication to Hashem and His Holy Torah, we mended the breaches in Klal Yisroel, and we became deserving again of miraculous salvation and a victory against evil.

In our times, in the days leading up to Purim, we read Parshas Zachor. We fan the fire of our love for our Father in Heaven, and we deeply despise anyone and anything, external or internal, that works to lead us astray. Then, on the Fast of Esther, we use the time of physical weakness to focus on the health and vibrancy of our soul through prayer and repentance. And, if we do things right, with the fulfilment of our verbal and mental war against Amalek, on Purim we merit, as it should be this year, to achieve a physical and final victory against the force which drives us away from Hashem, erasing Amalek from this world, leading to the achievement of perfection and the final redemption.

  1. 13th Century work often attributed to Rabbi Aharon HaLevi.
  2. Rabbi Yitzchak Arama (c.1420-1494)
  3. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira of Dinov (1783-1841). Adar 3:13
  4. Devarim 23:10
  5. Kesubos 46a
  6. Brochos 6a
  7. Rabbi Aharon the 2nd of Karlin (1802-1872). Parshas Zachor.
  8. Tehillim 97:10

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