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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

How Could We be Commanded to Commit Genocide?

by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff (Posted on September 6, 2016)
Topics: Sefer Devarim, Ki Tetze, Shekalim, Zakhor, Parah & HaChodesh, Ethics

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This article is part of Torat Chovevei, a Community Learning Program led by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah with the support of the Covenant Foundation. The goal of the program is to connect communities to YCT through the medium of Torah learning. All topics discussed weave relevant contemporary issues together with Torah and non-Torah sources in monthly home-based learning groups (chaburot). These groups are guided by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff, Rebbe and Director of Community Learning at YCT. For further information about Torat Chovevei, and how your community can get involved, please contact Rabbi Resnikoff at hresnikoff@yctorah.org.

Amalek, as it appears in the פשט of the תנ”ך and in חז”ל and the later Midrashim is a tribe that raids others both for status and for economic necessity. The only way to be safe from a tribe with this kind of predatory culture is to destroy it entirely because any remnant will rebuild the tribe with the same rapacious culture. The legacy of such a culture is the willingness and desire to prey on others for the enrichment of the self, thus to stamp out this legacy, we must be ultra-vigilant not to prey on others. This affects the way we treat others as individuals, communities, nations, and even international alliances.

Devarim 25

זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם: אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ כָּל־הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִ֣ים אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַתָּ֖ה עָיֵ֣ף וְיָגֵ֑עַ וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱ-לֹהִֽים:וְהָיָ֡ה בְּהָנִ֣יחַ יְקֹוָ֣ק אֱ-לֹהֶ֣יךָ׀ לְ֠ךָ מִכָּל־אֹ֨יְבֶ֜יךָ מִסָּבִ֗יב בָּאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יְקֹוָֽק־אֱ֠-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵ֨ן לְךָ֤ נַחֲלָה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח:Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, all that were enfeebled in thy rear, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, “Being Frum and Being Good”, Based on addresses, adapted by Rav Reuven Ziegler

… I mentioned before that the quest for goodness is an integral component of frumkeit. Generally speaking, this is true. But regarding certain particular tzivuyyim (divine commands), surely we find instances in which obedient response to God’s normative demands stands in apparent opposition to what we conceive to be good and, if you will, to what we understand that God conceives to be good. Here, a problem arises: How do we relate to this?

What makes this problem more acute is the fact that it arises particularly in individuals who are morally and spiritually sensitive. Those who are relatively coarse are not concerned with these issues. Who is troubled by the command to wipe out Amalek? Those people who have succeeded in developing the kind of moral sensitivity that is important to us…

But, of course, the resolution must be clear, and the grappling must all be done within the parameters of the understanding that, however much I wrestle, I do not for a moment question the authenticity or the authority of the tzav. I do not judge God. I assume, a priori, that “His deeds are perfect, for all His ways are just; a faithful God, without iniquity, righteous and upright is He” (Devarim 32:4)…
Subsequently, I heard that a leading Religious Zionist rabbi in a prominent yeshiva had taken thirty minutes out of his Gemara shiur in order to attack what I had said. I called and asked him, “What did I say that merits this great wrath?” He replied, “I think it is a terrible thing to speak in this way, describing the divine command to destroy Amalek as asking a person to do something which ordinarily is not moral. This poses an ethical problem.”

I said to him, “Wiping out Amalek does not conform to what we would normally expect a person to do. Normally, you should not be killing ‘from child to suckling babe.’ But I’m not saying, God forbid, that it is immoral in our case, where God has specifically commanded the destruction of Amalek—‘A faithful God, without iniquity, righteous and upright is He’ (Devarim 32:4). Although generally such an act would be considered immoral, it assumes a different character when God, from His perception and perspective, commands it. The same holds true of the akeida—it demanded that Avraham do something which normally is immoral. But in the context of the divine command, surely it partakes of the goodness and morality of God. We must admit, though, that there is a conflict in this case between the usual moral norm and the immediate tzav given here.”

He said, “Yes, but you shouldn’t describe it as being something which is not moral in a sense.” So I asked him, “Do you agree that the tzav given here is something which we would not normally encourage people to do, something that we would normally consider to be immoral?” He said, “Yes, but it should not be described that way.” And he added, “Yesh kan hevdel chinukhi—there is an educational difference.”

Questions:

  1. According to Rav Aharon, what is the relationship between the Mitzvah of destroying Amalek and standard morality? What demands of us that we view the mitzvah as good and right?
  2. How satisfying is this solution? What kind of approach toward religion does it demand?

1 Samuel 15

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל֙ אֶל־שָׁא֔וּל אֹתִ֨י שָׁלַ֤ח יְקֹוָק֙ לִמְשָׁחֳךָ֣ לְמֶ֔לֶךְ עַל־עַמּ֖וֹ עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְעַתָּ֣ה שְׁמַ֔ע לְק֖וֹל דִּבְרֵ֥י יְקֹוָֽק: כֹּ֤ה אָמַר֙ יְקֹוָ֣ק צְבָא֔וֹת פָּקַ֕דְתִּי אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה עֲמָלֵ֖ק לְיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֥ם לוֹ֙ בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ בַּעֲלֹת֖וֹ מִמִּצְרָֽיִם: עַתָּה֩ לֵ֨ךְ וְהִכִּֽיתָ֜ה אֶת־עֲמָלֵ֗ק וְהַֽחֲרַמְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־ל֔וֹ וְלֹ֥א תַחְמֹ֖ל עָלָ֑יו וְהֵמַתָּ֞ה מֵאִ֣ישׁ עַד־ אִשָּׁ֗ה מֵֽעֹלֵל֙ וְעַד־יוֹנֵ֔ק מִשּׁ֣וֹר וְעַד־שֶׂ֔ה מִגָּמָ֖ל וְעַד־חֲמֽוֹר… וַיַּ֥ךְ שָׁא֖וּל אֶת־עֲמָלֵ֑ק מֵֽחֲוִילָה֙ בּוֹאֲךָ֣ שׁ֔וּר אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י מִצְרָֽיִם: וַיִּתְפֹּ֛שׂ אֶת־אֲגַ֥ג מֶֽלֶךְ־עֲמָלֵ֖ק חָ֑י וְאֶת־כָּל־הָעָ֖ם הֶחֱרִ֥ים לְפִי־חָֽרֶב: וַיַּחְמֹל֩ שָׁא֨וּל וְהָעָ֜ם עַל־אֲגָ֗ג וְעַל־מֵיטַ֣ב הַצֹּאן֩ וְהַבָּקָ֨ר וְהַמִּשְׁנִ֤ים וְעַל־הַכָּרִים֙ וְעַל־כָּל־הַטּ֔וֹב וְלֹ֥א אָב֖וּ הַחֲרִימָ֑ם וְכָל־הַמְּלָאכָ֛ה נְמִבְזָ֥ה וְנָמֵ֖ס אֹתָ֥הּ הֶחֱרִֽימוּ… וַיֹּ֤אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל֙ אֶל־שָׁא֔וּל הֶ֚רֶף וְאַגִּ֣ידָה לְּךָ֔ אֵת֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֧ר יְקֹוָ֛ק אֵלַ֖י הַלָּ֑יְלָה ויאמרו וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ל֖וֹ דַּבֵּֽר: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵ֔ל הֲל֗וֹא אִם־קָטֹ֤ן אַתָּה֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ רֹ֛אשׁ שִׁבְטֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אָ֑תָּה וַיִּמְשָׁחֲךָ֧ יְקֹוָ֛ק לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: וַיִּשְׁלָחֲךָ֥ יְקֹוָ֖ק בְּדָ֑רֶךְ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֵ֣ךְ וְהַחֲרַמְתָּ֞ה אֶת־הַֽחַטָּאִים֙ אֶת־עֲמָלֵ֔ק וְנִלְחַמְתָּ֣ ב֔וֹ עַ֥ד כַּלּוֹתָ֖ם אֹתָֽם: וְלָ֥מָּה לֹא־שָׁמַ֖עְתָּ בְּק֣וֹל יְקֹוָ֑ק וַתַּ֙עַט֙ אֶל־הַשָּׁלָ֔ל וַתַּ֥עַשׂ הָרַ֖ע בְּעֵינֵ֥י יְקֹוָֽק: וַיֹּ֨אמֶר שָׁא֜וּל אֶל־שְׁמוּאֵ֗ל אֲשֶׁ֤ר שָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙ בְּק֣וֹל יְקֹוָ֔ק וָאֵלֵ֕ךְ בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ אֲשֶׁר־שְׁלָחַ֣נִי יְקֹוָ֑ק וָאָבִ֗יא אֶת־ אֲגַג֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ עֲמָלֵ֔ק וְאֶת־עֲמָלֵ֖ק הֶחֱרַֽמְתִּי: וַיִּקַּ֨ח הָעָ֧ם מֵהַשָּׁלָ֛ל צֹ֥אן וּבָקָ֖ר רֵאשִׁ֣ית הַחֵ֑רֶם לִזְבֹּ֛חַ לַֽיקֹוָ֥ק אֱ-לֹהֶ֖יךָ בַּגִּלְגָּֽל… אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם: אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ כָּל־הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִ֣ים אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַתָּ֖ה עָיֵ֣ף וְיָגֵ֑עַ וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱ-לֹהִֽים: וְהָיָ֡ה בְּהָנִ֣יחַ יְקֹוָ֣ק אֱ-לֹהֶ֣יךָ׀ לְ֠ךָ מִכָּל־אֹ֨יְבֶ֜יךָ מִסָּבִ֗יב בָּאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יְקֹוָֽק־אֱ֠-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵ֨ן לְךָ֤ נַחֲלָה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח:And Samuel said unto Saul: ‘The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over His people, over Israel; now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts: I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he set himself against him in the way, when he came up out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’ … And Saul smote the Amalekites, from Havilah as thou goest to Shur, that is in front of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, even the young of the second birth, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; but every thing that was of no account and feeble, that they destroyed utterly… Then Samuel said unto Saul: ‘Stay, and I will tell thee what the LORD hath said to me this night.’ And he said unto him: ‘Say on.’ And Samuel said: ‘Though thou be little in thine own sight, art thou not head of the tribes of Israel? And the LORD anointed thee king over Israel; 18 and the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said: Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed. 19 Wherefore then didst thou not hearken to the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst that which was evil in the sight of the LORD?’ And Saul said unto Samuel: ‘Yea, I have hearkened to the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the devoted things, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.’

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma, 22b

וירב בנחל, אמר רבי מני: על עסקי נחל. בשעה שאמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא לשאול לך והכית את עמלק, אמר: ומה נפש אחת אמרה תורה הבא עגלה ערופה, כל הנפשות הללו על אחת כמה וכמה! ואם אדם חטא – בהמה מה חטאה? ואם גדולים חטאו – קטנים מה חטאו? יצאה בת קול ואמרה לו אל תהי צדיק הרבה.“And they fought in the river.” Rabbi Mani said: About the issues of the river. At the time that the Holy Blessed One said to Saul, ‘Go smite Amalek,’ he said, ‘If for one murdered soul, the Torah made us bring a broken-necked-calf, for all of these souls, how much more so! And if the people sinned – how did the animals sin? And if the adults sinned – how did the children sin?’ A heavenly voice descended and said, ‘Do not be overly righteous.’

Questions:

  1. What did Saul do wrong? What could possibly be wrong with showing mercy to the innocent?
  2. What is meant by “Do not be overly righteous?” What does this say about qualms we might have about the mitzvah of eradicating Amalek?

Who is Amalek?

Judges 3

וַיֹּסִ֙פוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת הָרַ֖ע בְּעֵינֵ֣י יְקֹוָ֑ק וַיְחַזֵּ֨ק יְקֹוָ֜ק אֶת־עֶגְל֤וֹן מֶֽלֶךְ־מוֹאָב֙ עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל עַ֛ל כִּֽי־עָשׂ֥וּ אֶת־הָרַ֖ע בְּעֵינֵ֥י יְקֹוָֽק: וַיֶּאֱסֹ֣ף אֵלָ֔יו אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י עַמּ֖וֹן וַעֲמָלֵ֑ק וַיֵּ֗לֶךְ וַיַּךְ֙ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיִּֽירְשׁ֖וּ אֶת־עִ֥יר הַתְּמָרִֽים:וַיַּעַבְד֤וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶת־עֶגְל֣וֹן מֶֽלֶךְ־מוֹאָ֔ב שְׁמוֹנֶ֥ה עֶשְׂרֵ֖ה שָׁנָֽה: And the children of Israel again did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done that which was evil in the sight of the LORD. And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek; and he went and smote Israel, and they possessed the city of palm-trees. And the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.

Shoftim 6

וַיַּעֲשׂ֧וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל הָרַ֖ע בְּעֵינֵ֣י יְקֹוָ֑ק וַיִּתְּנֵ֧ם יְקֹוָ֛ק בְּיַד־מִדְיָ֖ן שֶׁ֥בַע שָׁנִֽים…וְהָיָ֖ה אִם־זָרַ֣ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְעָלָ֨ה מִדְיָ֧ן וַֽעֲמָלֵ֛ק וּבְנֵי־קֶ֖דֶם וְעָל֥וּ עָלָֽיו: וַיַּחֲנ֣וּ עֲלֵיהֶ֗ם וַיַּשְׁחִ֙יתוּ֙ אֶת־יְב֣וּל הָאָ֔רֶץ עַד־בּוֹאֲךָ֖ עַזָּ֑ה וְלֹֽא־יַשְׁאִ֤ירוּ מִֽחְיָה֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְשֶׂ֥ה וָשׁ֖וֹר וַחֲמֽוֹר…And the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years… And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east; they came up against them; and they encamped against them, and destroyed the produce of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance in Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass.

1 Samuel 30

וַיְהִ֞י בְּבֹ֨א דָוִ֧ד וַאֲנָשָׁ֛יו צִֽקְלַ֖ג בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֑י וַעֲמָלֵקִ֣י פָֽשְׁט֗וּ אֶל־נֶ֙גֶב֙ וְאֶל־צִ֣קְלַ֔ג וַיַּכּוּ֙ אֶת־צִ֣קְלַ֔ג וַיִּשְׂרְפ֥וּ אֹתָ֖הּ בָּאֵֽשׁ:וַיִּשְׁבּ֨וּ אֶת־הַנָּשִׁ֤ים אֲשֶׁר־בָּהּ֙ מִקָּטֹ֣ן וְעַד־גָּד֔וֹל לֹ֥א הֵמִ֖יתוּ אִ֑ישׁ וַיִּֽנְהֲג֔וּ וַיֵּלְכ֖וּ לְדַרְכָּֽם:וַיָּבֹ֨א דָוִ֤ד וַֽאֲנָשָׁיו֙ אֶל־הָעִ֔יר וְהִנֵּ֥ה שְׂרוּפָ֖ה בָּאֵ֑שׁ וּנְשֵׁיהֶ֛ם וּבְנֵיהֶ֥ם וּבְנֹתֵיהֶ֖ם נִשְׁבּֽוּ…וַיֵּ֣לֶךְ דָּוִ֗ד ה֤וּא וְשֵׁשׁ־מֵא֥וֹת אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִתּ֔וֹ וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ עַד־נַ֣חַל הַבְּשׂ֑וֹר וְהַנּֽוֹתָרִ֖ים עָמָֽדוּ…וַיֹּ֣רִדֵ֔הוּ וְהִנֵּ֥ה נְטֻשִׁ֖ים עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כָל־הָאָ֑רֶץ אֹכְלִ֤ים וְשֹׁתִים֙ וְחֹ֣גְגִ֔ים בְּכֹל֙ הַשָּׁלָ֣ל הַגָּד֔וֹל אֲשֶׁ֥ר לָקְח֛וּ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֖ים וּמֵאֶ֥רֶץ יְהוּדָֽה:And it came to pass, when David and his men were come to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had made a raid upon the South, and upon Ziklag, and had smitten Ziklag, and burned it with fire; and had taken captive the women and all that were therein, both small and great; they slew not any, but carried them off, and went their way. And when David and his men came to the city, behold, it was burned with fire; and their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, were taken captives… So David went, he and the six hundred men that were with him, and came to the brook Besor, where those that were left behind stayed… And when he had brought him down, behold, they were spread abroad over all the ground, eating and drinking, and feasting, because of all the great spoil that they had taken out of the land of the Philistines, and out of the land of Judah.

Questions:

  1. Based on its appearances in the Tanach, what appears to be the nature of Amalek as a nation? Do they appear to have a particular vendetta against Israel per se?
  2. Based on the sources above, what might be reasons for the mitzvah to annihilate this nation?

Midrash Tanhuma (Warsaw), Ki Tetze 9

מהו עמלק…עמלק עם שבא ללוק דמן של ישראל ככלב, רבי לוי בשם רבי שמעון בר חלפתא אמר משל למה היה עמלק דומה לזבוב שהיה לוהט אחר המכה כך היה לוהט עמלק אחר ישראל ככלב, עד שיצאו ישראל ממצרים שמע שנגאלו ובא עליהם על הים… בדרך בצאתכם ממצרים אמר רבי לוי על הדרך בא עליהם כליסטין…What is Amalek…Amalek: A nation that is coming to lap up the blood of Israel like a dog. Rabbi Levi in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Chalafta said, ‘what did Amalek resemble? A fly that lusts after the wound. Thus Amalek lusted after Israel like a dog. As soon as Israel left Egypt, they heard and came upon them by the sea… “by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt” Rabbi Levi said, they came upon them on the road like brigands…

Question:

  1. Considering what we saw in the Tanach, what would have been Amalek’s goal in hovering around Israel, waiting for them to leave Egypt? How apt is the image of a fly or a dog?

Ibid. (continuation)

אשר קרך וגו’… רבי נחמיה אומר קראך ממש מה עשה עמלק עמד וירד לארכיון של מצרים ונטל טומוסיהון של שבטים שהיה שמם חקוק עליהם במתכונת הלבנים, ועמד לו חוץ לענן והיה קורא להם ראובן שמעון ולוי פוקו דאנא אחיכון ובעינן למעבד עמכון פרקמטיא, כיון שהיו יוצאין היו הורגן אותן, ורבנן אמרי קרך היקרך לפני אחרים, אמר רבי חוניא מלה”ד לאמבטי רותחת שלא היתה בריה יכולה לירד בתוכה בא בן בליעל אחד וקפץ לתוכה אף על פי שנכוה הקירה לפני אחרים, אף כאן כיון שיצאו ישראל ממצרים הקדוש ברוך הוא קרע הים לפניהם ונשתקעו המצרים לתוכו נפל פחדן על כל האומות שנא’ (שמות טו) אז נבהלו אלופי אדום וגו’, כיון שבא עמלק ונזדווג להם אף על פי שנטל את שלו מתחת ידן הקירו לפני או”ה.

“How he met thee etc.”…Rabbi Nehemia says, ‘They really called you. What did Amalek do? They went down to the archives of Egypt and they took the records of the tribes for their names were written on them for their quota of bricks. And they stood outside of the cloud and called to them, ‘Reuven, Shimon, and Levi! Come out. We are your brothers and we want to trade with you!’ When they would come out, they would kill them.’ And the rabbis say, ‘they cooled you for others.’ Rabbi Chonya said, ‘What does this resemble? A boiling cauldron that no living thing could go into it. A base person came and jumped in. Even though they were burned, they cooled it for others. Just so, when Israel went out of Egypt, the Holy Blessed One split the sea for them and the Egyptians were drowned in it. The fear of them fell on all of the nations as it says, “Thus the chieftains of Edom were afraid etc.” When Amalek came and engaged them, even though they received their punishment at their hands, they cooled them before the nations of the world.

Questions:

  1. The Midrash presents several different descriptions of Amalek. What do they all have in common?
  2. Based on what we’ve seen so far, what might have motivated Amalek to learn the Jewish names to lure people out from under the cloud? Why might they have dared to attack Israel even knowing that they were under God’s protection?

Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche Military Societies: Enduring Veterans, 1800 to the Present, William Meadows, University of Texas Press, 1999

Another little known factor in the functional roles of the Comanche organizations involves the change from a hunting to a war-based economy. Foster (1991:39) argues that raiding and trade, especially in horses, became a prominent feature of Comanche subsistence by circa 1750. Thomas (1932) contains descriptions of events suggesting that raiding, particularly of the Puebloan groups, was used during periods of economic shortages such as times of natural drought when grass and bison were in short supply. If Richardson (1933), Kardiner (1945), and Hagan (1976) are correct that Comanche warfare and raiding had increased by the 1850s to the point that warfare had begun to rival hunting as a subsistence base, then the Comanche appear to have adopted a “predatory economy” as Kavanagh (1980:68) suggests. Such economic changes explain the lack of ethnographic emphasis placed upon the policing of the communal hunt and hence the primary association of societies with the Na’wapina’r ceremony.

Questions:

  1. By the 1850’s what was one major basis of the Comanche economy? What is the danger of being in the vicinity of a tribe whose economy is structured this way? What must you do to stay safe?
  2. Based on the texts we’ve seen so far, is there evidence to suggest that Amalek may have resembled the later Comanches? What light would that shed on the mitzvah to eradicate them?

Egil’s Saga, 1893, English, transl. W. C. Green, from the original ‘Egils saga Skallagrímssonar’, Ch. 46.

Thorolf and Egil stayed that winter with Thorir, and were made much of. But in spring they got ready a large war-ship and gathered men thereto, and in summer they went the eastern way and harried; there won they much wealth and had many battles. They held on even to Courland, and made a peace for half a month with the men of the land and traded with them. But when this was ended, then they took to harrying, and put in at divers places. One day they put in at the mouth of a large river, where was an extensive forest upon land. They resolved to go up the country, dividing their force into companies of twelve…
Now Egil and his twelve had gone through a wood and then saw wide plains and tillage. Hard by them stood a house. For this they made, and when they came there they ran into the house, but could see no one there. They took all the loose chattels that they came upon. There were many rooms, so this took them a long time. But when they came out and away from the house, an armed force was there between them and the wood, and this attacked them…Egil’s party were wounded, and after that taken, and all bound, and so brought home to the farmhouse.
The owner of that farm was a powerful and wealthy man; he had a son grown up. Now they debated what they should do with their prisoners. The goodman said that he thought this were best counsel, to kill them one on the heels of another. His son said that the darkness of night was now closing in, and no sport was thus gotten by their torture; he bade them be let bide till the morning. So they were thrust into a room and strongly bound. Egil was bound hand and foot to a post. Then the room was strongly locked, and the Courlanders went into the dining-hall, ate, drank, and were merry.
Egil strained and worked at the post till he loosed it up from the floor. Then the post fell, and Egil slipped himself off it. Next he loosed his hands with his teeth. But when his hands were loose, he loosed therewith the bonds from his feet. And then he freed his comrades; but when they were all loosed they searched round for the likeliest place to get out…
Then said Egil’s comrades that they should hasten to the wood. But Egil said to Aki, ‘If you know the house here, you can show us the way to some plunder.’…
Aki went to a trapdoor in the floor and opened it, telling them that they should go down by this to the store-room below. They got a light and went thither. It was the goodman’s treasury; there were many costly things, and much silver. There the men took them each a load and carried it out. Egil took under his arm a large mead-cask, and bare it so.
But when they came to the wood, then Egil stopped, and he said:
‘This our going is all wrong, and not warlike. We have stolen the goodman’s property without his knowing thereof. Never ought that shame to be ours. Go we back to the house, and let him know what hath befallen.’
All spoke against that, saying they would make for the ship.
Egil set down the mead-cask, then ran off, and sped him to the house…
Egil seized a beam, carried it to the dining-hall, and thrust the burning end under the eaves, and so into the birch bark of the roof, which soon caught fire… But those who sate drinking within did not find it out till the flame burst in round the roof. Then they rushed to the door; but there was no easy way out, both by reason of the fagot-wood, and because Egil kept the door, and slew most who strove to pass out either in the doorway or outside….
But Egil went back to the wood, where he found his comrades, and they all went together to the ship. Egil said he would have the mead-cask which he carried as his own special prize; it proved to be full of silver. Thorolf and his men were overjoyed when Egil came down. They put out from land as soon as day dawned; Aki and his two sons were with Egil’s following. They sailed in the summer, now far spent, to Denmark, where they lay in wait for merchant-ships, and plundered when they got the chance.

Questions:

  1. What should the goodman have done to prevent Egil’s return and ultimate slaughter of his household? Was there any other option? If he had returned Egil to his ships, what would the outcome have been?
  2. What is the cultural imperative that demanded that Egil return and kill everyone? What are the dangers of living in the vicinity of a culture that has such imperatives? How do you destroy such cultural imperatives?
  3. How do these two models (the Vikings and the Comanche) help to justify the mitzvah to utterly annihilate Amalek?

What is the Legacy of Amalek (זכר עמלק)?

Elie Weisel, “Have you Learned the Most Important Lesson of All?” Parade Magazine, 1992.

I insist: All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them. And racism is stupid, just as it is ugly. Its aim is to destroy, to pervert, to distort innocence in human beings and their quest for human equality.
Racism is misleading. There are good people and bad people in every community. No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. We all come from somewhere, and we all wonder where we are going.
I know: You have been tested during your years in school, more than once. But the real tests are still ahead of you. How will you deal with your own or other people’s hunger, homelessness, sexual or gender discrimination, and community antagonisms?
The world outside is not waiting to welcome you with open arms. The economic climate is bad; the psychological one is worse. You wonder, will you find jobs? Allies? Friends? I pray to our Father in heaven to answer “yes” to all these questions.
But should you encounter temporary disappointments, I also pray: Do not make someone else pay the price for your pain. Do not see in someone else a scapegoat for your difficulties. Only a fanatic does that not you, for you have learned to reject fanaticism. You know that fanaticism leads to hatred, and hatred is both destructive and self-destructive.
I speak to you as a teacher and a student-one is both, always. I also speak to you as a witness.
I speak to you, for I do not want my past to become your future.

Questions:

  1. What would Elie Wiesel say about the cultural argument we’ve made based on the texts above? Would he consider them good enough to justify wiping out an entire nation?
  2. How, according to Wiesel, should we look today to fulfill the mitzvah of destroying Amalek?

Devarim 25

לֹא־יִהְיֶ֥ה לְךָ֛ בְּבֵיתְךָ֖ אֵיפָ֣ה וְאֵיפָ֑ה גְּדוֹלָ֖ה וּקְטַנָּֽה: אֶ֣בֶן שְׁלֵמָ֤ה וָצֶ֙דֶק֙ יִֽהְיֶה־לָּ֔ךְ אֵיפָ֧ה שְׁלֵמָ֛ה וָצֶ֖דֶק יִֽהְיֶה־לָּ֑ךְ לְמַ֙עַן֙ יַאֲרִ֣יכוּ יָמֶ֔יךָ עַ֚ל הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־ יְקֹוָ֥ק אֱ-לֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ: כִּ֧י תוֹעֲבַ֛ת יְקֹוָ֥ק אֱ-לֹהֶ֖יךָ כָּל־עֹ֣שֵׂה אֵ֑לֶּה כֹּ֖ל עֹ֥שֵׂה עָֽוֶל: פ זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק…Thou shalt not have in thy house diverse measures, a great and a small. A perfect and just weight shalt thou have; a perfect and just measure shalt thou have; that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. For all that do such things, even all that do unrighteously, are an abom; Remember what Amalek did unto thee…ination unto the LORD thy God.

Yalkut Shimoni, Ki Tetze, ch.  938

כיון שמצא פרשה זו כי תועבת ה’ כתב אחריה זכור, אמר משה ידבק רשע לרשע, משל לרוצח שנתפס הביאוהו לפני השלטון ולא היה בבית האסורין רוצח אלא אנשים טובים, מהם ראשי מדינה, אמר השלטון תנוהו במקום אחר לעצמו, לאחר ימים נתפס רוצח אחר, אמר השלטון ינתן עם חברו בזיקים, כך אמר משה ינתן מי שעשה עול עם מי שעשה עול לקיים מה שנאמר פני ה’ בעושי רעWhen he found this portion: “For all that do such things…are an abomination unto the LORD thy God.” He wrote after it “Remember…” Moshe said, ‘Let the wicked cling to the wicked.’ This is comparable to a murderer who was caught. They brought them before the leader but there weren’t any murderers in the prison, rather, only good people, some of them leaders of the city. The leader said, “Put [the murderer] in a different place all alone. After some days, another murderer was caught. The leader said, ‘Put them with their fellow in chains. Thus Moshe said, let one who is dishonest be placed with the dishonest nation…

Mishna, Tractate Kidushin, ch. 4

…אומר משום אבא גוריא לא ילמד אדם את בנו חמר גמל ספר ספן רועה וחנוני שאומנתן אומנות לסטים רבי יהודה אומר משמו החמרין רובן רשעים והגמלין רובן כשרים הספנין רובן חסידים טוב שברופאים לגיהנם והכשר שבטבחים שותפו של עמלק…says in the name of Abba Gurya, ‘A person should not teach their child to be a muleteer, a camel driver, a barber, a sailor, a shepherd, or a store keeper for their craft is the craft of thieves.’ Rabbi Yehudah said in his name, ‘Muleteers are mostly wicked. Camel drivers are mostly kosher. Sailors are mostly righteous. The best doctors go to Hell and the most kosher of butchers are partners with Amalek.

Tosafot Yom Tov ad loc

לשון רש”י…טוב שבטבחים. ספיקי טרפות באות לידו וחס על ממונו ומאכילן. ע”כ לשון רש”י. ושותפו של עמלק לא ניחא. דמה ענין עמלק למאכיל טרפות. ולכן נראה לפרש טוב שבטבחים הוא אכזרי ומזגו רע. והוא שותפו של עמלק האכזרי שזינב כל הנחשלים. ולא היה אומה ולשון שנזדווגו בישראל אחר שיצאו ממצרים והנסים שנעשו להם. כי אם עמלק ראשונה. וזה מורה על אכזריות לבבו שלא שם אל לבו הנסים והנפלאות שנעשו לישראל והמכות של מצרים במצרים ועל הים אלא אכזריותו וזדונו הכריעו לכך כמ”ש (דברים כ”ה) ולא ירא א-להים:The language of Rashi…”The best of the butchers,” possible treif meet comes to them and they are concerned with their money and feed it to others. This is the opinion of Rashi. And [according to this] “partners with Amalek” doesn’t make sense. For what is the connection between Amalek and one who feeds others treif? And therefore it appears [better] to interpret: the best of butchers are cruel and shed blood. And they are the partners of Amalek the cruel, who attacked the stragglers. And there was no nation or tribe who would engage Israel after they left Egypt and the miracles were done for them except for Amalek. And this testifies to the cruelty for they did not take to heart the miracles and wonders that were done for Israel and the plagues of Egypt in Egypt and by the sea. Rather, their cruelty and willfulness determined them. Therefore it says “And they didn’t fear God.”

Questions:

  1. What is the significance of putting he mitzvah of destroying Amalek directly after the mitzvot forbidding dishonesty in business?
  2. What kind of behavior, according to the Mishna and the Tosafot Yom Tom makes one a friend or follower of Amalek? How can this be related to the cultural discussion above?

1 Kings 11

וַיְהִ֗י בִּֽהְי֤וֹת דָּוִד֙ אֶת־אֱד֔וֹם בַּעֲל֗וֹת יוֹאָב֙ שַׂ֣ר הַצָּבָ֔א לְקַבֵּ֖ר אֶת־הַחֲלָלִ֑ים וַיַּ֥ךְ כָּל־זָכָ֖ר בֶּאֱדֽוֹם: כִּ֣י שֵׁ֧שֶׁת חֳדָשִׁ֛ים יָֽשַׁב־שָׁ֥ם יוֹאָ֖ב וְכָל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל עַד־הִכְרִ֥ית כָּל־זָכָ֖ר בֶּאֱדֽוֹם:For it came to pass, when David was in Edom, and Joab the captain of the host was gone up to bury the slain, and had smitten every male in Edom– for Joab and all Israel remained there six months, until he had cut off every male in Edom…

Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra, 21a

כי ששת חדשים ישב שם יואב וכל ישראל עד הכרית כל זכר באדום, כי אתא לקמיה דדוד, אמר ליה: מאי טעמא עבדת הכי? אמר ליה, דכתיב: תמחה את זכר עמלק. אמר ליה: והא אנן זכר קרינן! א”ל: אנא זכר אקריון. אזל שייליה לרביה, אמר ליה: היאך אקריתן? אמר ליה: זכר. שקל ספסירא למיקטליה, אמר ליה: אמאי? א”ל, דכתיב: ארור עושה מלאכת ה’ רמיה. א”ל: שבקיה לההוא גברא דליקום בארור! א”ל, כתיב: וארור מונע חרבו מדם! איכא דאמרי: קטליה, ואיכא דאמרי: לא קטליה“For Joab and all Israel remained there six months, until he had cut off every male in Edom,” when he came before David he (David) said to him, ‘Why did you do this?’ He (Yoav) replied, ‘as it says, “destroy the males of Amalek.”’ He said to him, ‘We read it “remnant” [“zecher”]!’ He replied, ‘I read it as “males” [zachar].’ He (David) went and asked his Rabbi. He said to him, ‘How do you read?’ He said to him, ‘remnant’. He (David) seized a sword to kill him (Yoav). He (Yoav) asked, ‘Why?’ He replied, ‘as it says, “Cursed is one who cheats in the labor of God!”’ He said to him, ‘So allow this man to be cursed!’ He replied, ‘It says, “And cursed is one who holds back their sword from blood!”’ There are those who say that he killed him and those who say that he did not kill him.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, “Being Frum and Being Good”. Based on addresses, adapted by Rav Reuven Ziegler

After the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, I published an open letter to the Prime Minister.Among other things, this letter dealt with the use of force and the motivation behind it. I asked: Why was it that King Shaul was punished for not killing Agag, King of Amalek? Was it simply for not having killed the last remaining Amalekite? I suggested that he was punished not just for sparing Agag, but because the fact that he refused to kill Agag placed in a totally different light his killing of all the other Amalekites beforehand.

Shaul had been commanded to take a whole people and kill them—and this is, morally, a frightful thing. The only justification lies in it being a response to an unequivocal divine command. Therefore, if Shaul had been motivated in his actions purely by fear of God, by obedience to thetzav, then he should have followed the command to the letter. God didn’t say, “Kill Amalek but spare Agag.” Now, if he didn’t kill Agag but killed everybody else, what does that indicate? It indicates that what motivated him in killing the others was not the tzav of God, but rather some baser impulse, some instinctive violence. And the proof is that he killed everyone, but spared his peer, his royal comrade.

Questions:

  1. Considering the arguments made by Rav Lichtenstein as well as the other texts we’ve seen above, why might Yoav have killed only the men of Amalek? What was his plan for the women, the children and the wealth?
  2. What kind of a person is Yoav in the Tanach as a whole? What does this sugya have to do with eradicating the legacy of Amalek?

Esther  3

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר הָמָן֙ לַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֔וֹשׁ יֶשְׁנ֣וֹ עַם־אֶחָ֗ד מְפֻזָּ֤ר וּמְפֹרָד֙ בֵּ֣ין הָֽעַמִּ֔ים בְּכֹ֖ל מְדִינ֣וֹת מַלְכוּתֶ֑ךָ וְדָתֵיהֶ֞ם שֹׁנ֣וֹת מִכָּל־עָ֗ם וְאֶת־דָּתֵ֤י הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ אֵינָ֣ם עֹשִׂ֔ים וְלַמֶּ֥לֶךְ אֵין־שֹׁוֶ֖ה לְהַנִּיחָֽם: אִם־עַל־הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ ט֔וֹב יִכָּתֵ֖ב לְאַבְּדָ֑ם וַעֲשֶׂ֨רֶת אֲלָפִ֜ים כִּכַּר־כֶּ֗סֶף אֶשְׁקוֹל֙ עַל־יְדֵי֙ עֹשֵׂ֣י הַמְּלָאכָ֔ה לְהָבִ֖יא אֶל־גִּנְזֵ֥י הַמֶּֽלֶךְ: וַיָּ֧סַר הַמֶּ֛לֶךְ אֶת־טַבַּעְתּ֖וֹ מֵעַ֣ל יָד֑וֹ וַֽיִּתְּנָ֗הּ לְהָמָ֧ן בֶּֽן־הַמְּדָ֛תָא הָאֲגָגִ֖י צֹרֵ֥ר הַיְּהוּדִֽים: וַיֹּ֤אמֶר הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ לְהָמָ֔ן הַכֶּ֖סֶף נָת֣וּן לָ֑ךְ וְהָעָ֕ם לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת בּ֖וֹ כַּטּ֥וֹב בְּעֵינֶֽיךָ…וְנִשְׁל֨וֹחַ סְפָרִ֜ים בְּיַ֣ד הָרָצִים֘ אֶל־כָּל־מְדִינ֣וֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ֒ לְהַשְׁמִ֡יד לַהֲרֹ֣ג וּלְאַבֵּ֣ד אֶת־כָּל־הַ֠יְּהוּדִים מִנַּ֨עַר וְעַד־זָקֵ֨ן טַ֤ף וְנָשִׁים֙ בְּי֣וֹם אֶחָ֔ד בִּשְׁלוֹשָׁ֥ה עָשָׂ֛ר לְחֹ֥דֶשׁ שְׁנֵים־עָשָׂ֖ר הוּא־חֹ֣דֶשׁ אֲדָ֑ר וּשְׁלָלָ֖ם לָבֽוֹז:And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus: ‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king’s laws; therefore it profiteth not the king to suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they be destroyed; and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those that have the charge of the king’s business, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.’ And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews’ enemy. And the king said unto Haman: ‘The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.’… And letters were sent by posts into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.

Esther 9

וַיַּכּ֤וּ הַיְּהוּדִים֙ בְּכָל־אֹ֣יְבֵיהֶ֔ם מַכַּת־חֶ֥רֶב וְהֶ֖רֶג וְאַבְדָ֑ן וַיַּֽעֲשׂ֥וּ בְשֹׂנְאֵיהֶ֖ם כִּרְצוֹנָֽם:וּבְשׁוּשַׁ֣ן הַבִּירָ֗ה הָרְג֤וּ הַיְּהוּדִים֙ וְאַבֵּ֔ד חֲמֵ֥שׁ מֵא֖וֹת אִֽישׁ…עֲ֠שֶׂרֶת בְּנֵ֨י הָמָ֧ן בֶּֽן־הַמְּדָ֛תָא צֹרֵ֥ר הַיְּהוּדִ֖ים הָרָ֑גוּ וּבַ֨בִּזָּ֔ה לֹ֥א שָׁלְח֖וּ אֶת־יָדָֽם…וַיִּֽקָּהֲל֞וּ היהודיים הַיְּהוּדִ֣ים אֲשֶׁר־בְּשׁוּשָׁ֗ן גַּ֠ם בְּי֣וֹם אַרְבָּעָ֤ה עָשָׂר֙ לְחֹ֣דֶשׁ אֲדָ֔ר וַיַּֽהַרְג֣וּ בְשׁוּשָׁ֔ן שְׁלֹ֥שׁ מֵא֖וֹת אִ֑ישׁ וּבַ֨בִּזָּ֔ה לֹ֥א שָׁלְח֖וּ אֶת־יָדָֽם: וּשְׁאָ֣ר הַיְּהוּדִ֡ים אֲשֶׁר֩ בִּמְדִינ֨וֹת הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ נִקְהֲל֣וּ׀ וְעָמֹ֣ד עַל־נַפְשָׁ֗ם וְנ֙וֹחַ֙ מֵאֹ֣יְבֵיהֶ֔ם וְהָרֹג֙ בְּשֹׂ֣נְאֵיהֶ֔ם חֲמִשָּׁ֥ה וְשִׁבְעִ֖ים אָ֑לֶף וּבַ֨בִּזָּ֔ה לֹ֥א שָֽׁלְח֖וּ אֶת־יָדָֽם: And the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and with slaughter and destruction, and did what they would unto them that hated them. And in Shushan the castle the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men… 10 the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Jews’ enemy, slew they; but on the spoil they laid not their hand… And the Jews that were in Shushan gathered themselves together on the fourteenth day also of the month Adar, and slew three hundred men in Shushan; but on the spoil they laid not their hand. And the other Jews that were in the king’s provinces gathered themselves together, and stood for their lives, and had rest from their enemies, and slew of them that hated them seventy and five thousand–but on the spoil they laid not their hand

Questions:

  1. What distinguishes the Jewish self-defense effort from Haman’s original genocidal plan? How did the Jews separate themselves from the legacy of Amalek in this instance?
  2. How does the legacy of Amalek appear in the modern world, internationally, nationally, communally, and individually? What are real, active ways that we can act today to annihilate the legacy of Amalek?