Shaya Cohen -


Purim and Amalek

[This is quite an old piece – from 2008! I post it unedited.]

We have a commandment to eradicate Amalek, even though the people of Amalek ceased to exist thousands of years ago. Yet the Torah, which is timeless, insists that this is a commandment which we must remember every day, to keep close to our heart.

Are we meant to live life and never fulfill this mitzvah? I don’t think so. There are many mitzvos in the Torah (such as sacrifices) that we have taken and internalized in our prayer, asking Hashem to accept as a substitute.  Indeed, the Gemara makes many references to Hashem’s Shechinah having moved from the mishkan into the daled amos of every man’s soul. After the destruction of the temple we have internalized the temple and its fixtures and elements. Indeed, each person can equal the value of the whole world because of our individual, almost infinite, potential. That potential comes in part from Hashem’s voice, the “still small voice” inside us that we can sometimes hear when we pray.

We are not just filled with good things, of course. Amalek is also inside us. When Yehoshua is tasked with leading the battle against Amalek, it is because Yehoshua’s own weakness was that while he knew what to do, he did not always enjoy the courage of his convictions. Moshe’s parting blessing to Yehoshua was “chazak v’amatz”, that Yehoshua should be strengthened and made courageous, in order that he should be able to carry out his mission in life as the leader of the Jewish people.

Amalek was once a people, an external force. But even then, Amalek had a component within the Jewish soul. Amalek has the gematria of 240, which is the same gematria as “Safek” – doubt, or uncertainty. Yehoshua had to attack Amalek not just to battle an evil nation, but also to counter his own achilles heel, the weakness of uncertainty.

Amalek resurfaces for Purim, where Chazal hold that Haman was also from the nation of Amalek, but perhaps the last of that evil nation, therafter assimilated into the nations of the world. Purim, of course, happens at the same time as several other critical changes in the Jewish destiny. The Megillah sets the blueprint for Jews living in exile up until the present day – Hashem’s hidden face or Hester Panim, Jews assimilating to some extent to blend in with the “modern” culture, Jews finding a way to bring value to our host nation and still retain our unique and critical identity.  Megillas Esther is also the time when our relationship with Hashem changes from one of prophecy – nevuah – to one of Rabbis. The difference between the utterances of a prophet and the words of a Rabbi are that while the words of a prophet can be difficult to understand, there is no doubt that they are the words of G-d. A Rabbi, on the other hand, knows what he says, and builds from Torah – yet he knows that there is an element of uncertainty. His ruling is from the mind of a man, not from the mouth of a prophet.

Esther, like Yehoshua, suffered from indecision as well. Esther is not sure what to do. She fights her own private Amalek while she dithers – and then she makes the decision to go see the King. From that moment on, Haman’s fate is sealed. Esther conquers the Amalek within her, and the Amalek that threatens the Jews from outside becomes collateral damage. Perhaps we can even say that Esther’s greatest battle was in making that decision, not in carrying it out. Once she had annihilated the Amalek within her soul, Esther did not hesitate again.

Purim sets the tone for all Jews in exile up until the present day. Hashem still hides his face from us. We have no certain nevuah, and our lives are torn by indecision.  But there is something quintessentially Jewish about our indecision. A “normal” person lives his life while making few conscious decisions. Jews are taught to understand that at every single moment we are making a decision that could change our lives forever. Do we remember to say a blessing at every opportunity? Do we work and/or learn? Sleep or wake? The little decisions, right or wrong, pass quickly. The big decisions, however,  can be paralyzing. When we come to a fork in the road, we like to think about it, to discuss it, to procrastinate until we have answered every uncertainty, settled all doubts. In other words, Amalek wins when we let Safek rule our lives. We are told that the roshei tevot of “Mazal” is makom, zman, and la’asot – good fortune comes to those who, at the right place and time, act.

The biggest single mistake we can make is in understanding that NOT making a decision is still making a decision. And we have a mitzvah to correct this very mistake every single day.  This is the mitzvah to remember Amalek itself! We are commanded to be aware of our own doubts, to be aware that at every moment we are making decisions. We must overcome our natural Jewish desire to rationalize, consider, weigh the evidence, darshun, and generally indulge in the intoxicating habit of cloaking our lack of decisiveness in words, words…  words.

From the time of the first Purim to the present day, Amalek has been gone from this world – but very much alive in the heart of every Jew. The quality of the Safek is the same as that which afflicted Yehoshua and Esther. Both of these great people knew what they had to do – yet they hesitated to make that huge step, the step into the unknown. There is a reason that we collectively shout “Chazak Chazak v’Nischazek” in shul when we finish a book of the Torah. We, as a people, need every reinforcement against Amalek that we can get.

This is not just an ancient enemy; we see it bringing down the Jewish people in Israel today. Israel outclasses its enemies in every respect; if Israel only had the will, rockets would not be raining terror and destruction down on innocent civilians.  The entire country knows in its heart that if Israel is to survive it must take a certain path. Yet we are witnessing a national paralysis. Amalek, our constant enemy, afflicts us from within, keeping us from defending our people and our land, doing our moral and halachic duty.

Three years ago, my family moved from England, where we were very happy. We did so because the demographics had become undeniable; European natives are not having children while muslims are reproducing rapidly and taking over whole swaths of European society. While not dominant in numbers yet, the writing is on the wall. In times of turmoil, history is never made by a silent majority but by those who are willing to put their lives on the line for what they believe in – and suicide bombers present a very strong case that while the meek may inherit the earth, Europe will belong to the muslims. There is no future in Europe for Jews.

We know that our dear friends remaining in England also realize this at some level, though the growing peril is not yet a common dining room conversation.  Jews in Europe are suffering from the same Safek as the Jews in Israel. They know full well that in three years or five or twenty, Jews will no longer be welcome except perhaps as dhimmis, oppressed second class citizens in a muslim state. Yet very few people are leaving. While the changes within England are not obvious to those who live it day-by-day, it is shockingly apparent to those of us who revisit every year. Like the lobster in a slowly heating pot of water, the Jews in Europe can always rely on the Amalek within themselves to find justifications for not getting out.

Yet, we have a mitzvah every day: Remember Amalek, and Destroy Amalek. I pray that the Jews of the world this Purim once and for all remove that doubt and uncertainty from within themselves, and act to save themselves and their loved ones.

Comments are welcome!

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