Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt; Who encountered you on the way, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear when you were famished and weary, undeterred by fear of God. Therefore, when the LORD your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Devarim 25:17-19)
The nation of Amalek was the first nation to attack the Jewish people even after Hashem performed the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea. How do we understand that to be the reason why we have to obliterate them more than any other pagan worshipping nation?
Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch of Jerusalem in his work Ta’am Voda’as, offers the following explanation.
In Az Yoshir, the song that the Jewish people sang at the Red Sea, we read about the fear and dread that filled the hearts of different nations that heard about G-d’s miracles performed on behalf of the Jewish people. Forty years later Joshua sent spies into the first city that the Jewish people were to conquer. A woman named Rochov told them, “I know that the LORD has given the country to you, because dread of you has fallen upon us, and all the inhabitants of the land are quaking before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the waters of the Sea of Reeds for you when you left Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings across the Jordan, whom you doomed. When we heard about it, we lost heart, and no man had any more spirit left because of you; for the LORD your God is the only God in heaven above and on earth below (Joshua 2:9-11).”
So what happened to Amalek? Why did it make no impression on them?
It would seem that other nations believed in a higher power and they recognized that there is a God of Israel. Amalek didn’t believe in higher forces. To them everything was nature and happenstance. When they heard about a miracle they brushed aside as some kind of unexplainable hiccup in nature. Other nations believed in a diety. Amalek believed in nothing more than the world in front of them. With no connection to anything higher, Amalek is the greatest manifestation of evil and most negative influence on the world. Therefore they must be obliterated.
The worldview of Amalek is still alive and at a certain level even in those who believe in Hashem.
Let’s do the following exercise. Imagine G-d forbid a person with a very rare serious disease approaches a rabbi to intercede on his behalf with a doctor who is the best at treating this illness. The rabbi responds, “I’m not sure if I can convince the doctor to take you on as a patient. But I can arrange for ten Torah scholars to pray on your behalf!” What do you think that ill person’s response might be? Give yourself or others doing this together with you a little time to think and offer possible responses before reading further.
The response may be ‘Rabbi, that’s a wonderful offer. But how can that help without this doctor’s treatment?” If it is, there’s some Amalek there. Of course we are obligated to engage in natural forms of healing. But if one believes that Hashem is the healer of sickness then prayer is the most powerful healing agent we have.
If the response is, “ Rabbi, thank you so much! Can you also try to convince the doctor to take me as a patient ?”, that’s a person who understands that Hashem runs the world and that we also engage in natural methods because we are obligated to do so.
The Parsha (Torah portion) that we read on Shabbat is meant to carry relevant lessons for the week to come. Parshat Ki Teitzei is always read in the month of Elul. That means that this parsha carries lessons for this time of the year. The mitzvah to wipe out the memory of Amalek carries an important lesson as we approach Rosh Hashana.
The Talmud in tractate Rosh Hashana 16a states, “The Holy One, Blessed be He said... recite before Me on Rosh HaShana verses that mention Kingships, Remembrances, and Shofarot: Kingships so that you will crown Me as King over you; Remembrances so that your remembrance will rise before Me for good; and with what will the remembrance rise? It will rise with the shofar.” Rosh Hashanah is the day we accept anew that Hashem is our king and king of the world.
Included in the mitzvah to wipe out Amalek is to wipe out Amalek’s worldview that everything is determined by nature. This is the antithesis to acknowledging Hashem as the king of everything. Therefore we must do battle with the Amalek within us and strive to see Hashem in everything we do and experience. We do that through our standard Tefilot (prayers) and through reciting brachot (blessings).
We can also do that in a personal way. We can offer a personal prayer to Hashem for success before every endeavor we embark upon. We can take time to contemplate and thank Hashem in our own words and thoughts for all the blessings, large and small, we receive from Him. In this way we begin the process that will take place in all its grandeur on the holy day of Rosh Hashana. “(Recite) Kingships so that you will crown Me as King over you.”