Parshat Zachor

Torah Reading for Week of February 26 – March 3, 2012

 

“On Transformation of Evil”
By Rabbi Elisheva Beyer, RN, MS, JD ‘06

We are commanded to “remember (zachor)” to “wipe out the memory of Amalek” on this Shabbat before Purim.  Deut. 25:17.  Haman, the evil character of the Purim story, is said to be one of their descendants.

Who or what is Amalek?  Amalek was the grandson of Esau and progenitor of a long, lost ancient people purported to be the “first (in evil) among the nations.” Num. 24:20.  Amalek, as an archetype of evil, has three metaphorical interpretations: those who cause conflict and hatred, those who cause doubt and those who dampen enthusiasm.

HATRED AND CONFLICT:  In Torah, the Amalekite did not fear G-d and were guilty of an unprovoked sneak attack on the vulnerable Israelites, such as the elderly, the women and children who were traveling at the back of the tribe.  Deut. 25:18.  R’ Shlomo Elyashev describes them as “hollow” ones who “absorb their life juice through their skin” by provoking and feeding off hate and conflict.  HaDrush Olam HaTohu.

DOUBT:  Amalek attacked the Israelites after the people doubted G-d, asking, “Is G-d among us or not?” Ex. 17:1-8.  Faith in G‑d is integral to the Jewish soul and is even woven into the fabric of our soul’s essence. Tanya, Ch.18-19. Amalek is the antithesis of faith.  In fact, our sages note that the name Amalek has the same numerical value in Hebrew (gematria) as doubt (safek).

LOSS OF ENTHUSIASM:  Another reading of the root karcha (קרר), from the verse “when Amalek happened upon you,” is “when Amalek cooled you,” or, in other words, Amalek cooled enthusiasm for G-d.  Ex. 25:18.
What does Amalek mean to us today?  Is it someone who stirs up conflict and feeds on it?  Someone who doubts and causes us to doubt or someone who dampens our enthusiasm for G-d?   Regardless of which metaphor is used, Moses says that “G‑d has sworn by G-d’s throne that G‑d is at war with Amalek for all generations.” Exodus 17:16.  The bottom line is that Amalek has become a symbol of evil.

Is there a purpose for evil?  According to the Baal Shem Tov, evil is actually a throne for good.  Keter Shem Tov Sec. 26.  In other words, evil serves a purpose as a catalyst transforming good into something even better.  “Evil” is the obstacle in our way, the challenging co-worker or someone who provokes and tries to anger or harm us.  In wrestling with “evil,” we can become strengthened by deepening our connection with G-d.  Netiv Yichud.

The test of evil brings an opportunity of change.  According to the Psalmist, true evil eventually disappears completely.  Ps. 92:10.  So, is it true that there is some evil that will never be redeemed?  Or is it just parts of our soul that we are gathering and trying to fix up?

The Talmud says that “descendants of Haman, the Amalekite are studying Torah in Bnai Brak (a city in Israel).”  Gittin 57b, Sanhedrin 96b.  Doesn’t this imply that redemption of evil is possible?  Surely there are even children of Nazis who converted to Judaism and are currently living in Israel studying Torah.

Whether Amalek and what it symbolizes dies, or converts to good, is within G-d’s design.  In the interim, our goal is to pray for the teshuva (realignment) of our “enemies” and ourselves with G-d.  We can use the experience as an opportunity for growth to deepen our connection with G-d.  Netiv Yichud.  When this process occurs, evil loses its purpose and disappears and then ultimately Amalek’s name is blotted out.