16 September 2016
By Roy S. Neuberger
There is a startling transition in this week’s Parsha from the depths of Amalek to the heights of consolation in the Haftara. The Parsha dealing with Amalek bears a great deal of thought. This is the nation which hates us most, the nation whose presence will trouble the world until the time of Moshiach.
What about Amalek is so intensely evil? And what can we learn from Amalek?
I believe we can try to learn how to be the opposite of Amalek. But in order to do so we have to understand what makes him so evil.
Amalek exemplifies above all the trait of one who “did not fear G-d.” (Dvarim 25:18) This appears to be the root of evil. The Artscroll commentary points out that Amalek attacked “the weaklings,” among Am Yisroel, which shows that he feared people but he did not fear Hashem. (Stone Chumash)
What does it mean to fear Hashem?
The Shemoneh Esreh of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are unique. We stand for a long period before our Creator and say many words designed to elevate our souls so that we may request mercy and blessings for the coming year. But the words which initiate the entire tefillah are the following: “Uv’chain tain pachtecha … Hashem, our G-d, instill Your awe upon … Your works….” Apparently, the prerequisite to a good future is “pachad … awe.” Yaakov Avinu refers to Hashem as “pachad Yitzchak … the awe of my father Yitzchak.” (Bereishis 31:42) The relationship of Yitzchak Aveinu with the Ribono shel Olam is described as “awe.”
Some people approach Hashem intellectually and some viscerally. The word “pachad” seems to encompass both approaches. For if Hashem is really “Echad,” if He combines within Himself all powers and all strength, if there is nothing in the universe which is “outside” of Hashem, then we should surely be in complete awe of His Presence. We should shake and shudder at the thought of Him and, in fact, there should be no moment when we do not shake and shudder. As we say in the Shema, you should “speak of [these matters] while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you arise,” that is, at every moment.
Apparently, constant awareness of the all-encompassing Presence of Hashem was so real to Yitzchak Avinu as to define his very essence. Can you imagine his tefillos? An unending conversation between him and his Creator. The Presence of Hashem was so real to him that it overpowered the material world, to the extent that he was capable of offering himself up as a korban.
At the other extreme is Amalek, for whom there was no “awe,” no pachad. Amalek was afraid of man but did not tremble before G-d. Our neshomas are clothed in bodies, and we tend to be influenced by our physical nature. To go “after your heart and after your eyes” (Shema) requires no mental exertion. We think about what food we will eat. We think about clothes. We think about appearance. And we worry about having the financial resources to procure all these things. Amalek is the force in the world which is totally focused on the material world, who refuses to acknowledge the presence of Hashem and the fear which comes from recognizing His existence. That is why he attacked the weaklings. In the end of history, there will be no room in the world for Amalek, because life then will be built on Yiras Shomayim.
To rise to the level of Yitzchak Avinu requires an intense degree of spiritual discipline. One has to realize that nothing is decided in this world. All of Amalek’s obsessions with this world are actually decided in Shomayim, as it says, “Hakol bidai Shomayim … Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Shomayim.” (Berachos 33b), on which Rashi comments that we have a choice of two paths, and “we should choose the path of fear of Heaven.”
Do you think it was easy for Yitzchak Avinu to surrender himself to the Truth of Yiras Shomay-im and be willing to give up his earthly existence at the Akeida? It was a supreme test of his perception of Truth, a test so towering that the elevated level of his children throughout history is in the merit of his achievement. He recognized the preeminence of ruchnius over the transitory world of gashmius, and in his merit his descendants were able to be rescued by korbanos, which are physical acts which bring spiritual healing.
When one feels buried under the burdens of this world, it is an all-consuming avoda to rise to the level at which one can see the Truth and rely on Hashem to bring a yeshua. “In the future, Hakadosh Baruch Hu will … slaughter [the Evil Inclination] in the presence of the righteous and … the wicked. To the righteous [it] will appear like a high mountain [that can hardly be scaled]. To the wicked it will appear like a strand of hair [that can easily be snapped]. … The righteous will weep and say, ‘How were we able to climb such a high mountain?’ And the wicked will weep and say, ‘How were we not able to overcome this strand of hair?’” (Sukkah 52a)
Chodesh Elul is the time to ascend this high and difficult mountain! It is very challenging, but one day we will sing with happiness because we will be in the Presence of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. As the Novisays in this week’s Haftarah, “With a slight wrath have I concealed My countenance from you for a moment, but with eternal kindness shall I show you mercy, said your Redeemer, Hashem.” (Yeshiah 54:8)
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Roy Neuberger, author and public speaker, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2016 by Roy S. Neuberger