Parshas Beshalach.




In this Parsha we learn about the first war that the Jewish nation had to fight. The entire episode is very enigmatic and mysterious. The Torah describes how suddenly some people called Amalek “came” and started a war against the Jewish people. No prior episode is described that gives us any hints as to how this war started and what this nation tried to accomplish. The Jewish strategy also seems very strange. Moshe tells his student Yehoshua to choose some people and fight against Amalek, while Moshe himself stands on top of a hill with hands raised in prayer. In the end the Jewish people “weaken” Amalek. Hashem then tells Moshe write the episode down and tell Yehoshua: Amalek will eventually be destroyed. In the book of Devarim special unique commandments are given to destroy Amalek, to keep remembering what Amalek did to us, and to never forget it. How can we explain the encounter with Amalekites, and what is the significance of this nation and our continuous battle against it?




In general the topic of Amalek is very deep[1] and would require an entire book to just scratch the surface. However we will try to cover some of the major points and give a general answer to the questions raised.


We should first realize that Amalek is the main spiritual opponent our nation has had throughout history[2]. Its’ ideology is deemed the exact opposite of Torah and the constant battle against it represents the general battle between the holy and the impure. The Torah does not give us any prelude to the appearance of Amalek on the scene. However the juxtaposition of events written in the Torah can always give us an idea of what happened[3]. Right before the sudden coming of Amalek, the Torah tells about the Jewish complaint due to the lack of water: “Is Hashem in our midst or not?” When the Jewish people doubted the Divine Hashgacha, a nation came whose very purpose is to put a doubt of Hashem in people’s minds. Our sages[4] add that the lack of “water” also symbolizes the lack of Torah learning. Amalek appeared when the Jewish people were not learning Torah.


In general the war with Amalek was different from all other wars our nations had to fight. Amalek did not come to fight us for political or economic reasons that normally cause wars to break out. They actually came out of their way to the desert with the specific reason to fight against the Jewish people. What was their purpose? Our sages are very clear about it. Amalek is representative of world view that everything is due to chance and there is no Divine Rule over the universe[5]. The very fact that there existed a nation that claimed the opposite angered Amalek. They needed to prove that the Jewish people are also vulnerable just as everyone else. The nations that heard about the Exodus from Egypt generally reacted with fear of the Jewish people and were to some degree convinced that the Jewish claims about the Creator may be true. Amalek came out to “prove” the opposite[6].


The war against Amalek was fought on both physical and spiritual fronts. Yehoshua did not draft the entire nation but rather chose the righteous people whose merits will protect them in this war[7]. At the same time Moshe was leading the battle on the spiritual plane. The power of Amalek was not meant to be destroyed just then. Its’ full obliteration will only come at the end of days with the total rectification of the universe. While the other nations can be rectified at least partially and the righteous among them will have a share in the eternity, Amalek will have no rectification. Only Hashem can know this, no human being would be able to make such a statement. The entire spiritual root of Amalek is so bad, that it can only be used for in this world for enticement and punishment but will never have anything positive coming out of it[8].


The power of Amalek is not limited to the biological descendants of that nation. The spiritual root of Amalek can exist even in the Jewish people. The Zohar (1:25) describes five kinds of erev rav (mixed multitude) that exist in our nation. The worst of them is the Amalekites. Those are the ones that hate the Torah sages and promote anti-Torah views and attitudes. The Chofetz Chaim in his time mentioned that “Jewish Section[9]” is with certainty a group of Amalekites[10]. The battle against Amalek can thus include the spiritual battles between those who support the Torah and those who stand against it[11].


The most significant weapon in this battle is the study of Torah. Just as in any war, the side that knows where the power of the opponent is puts the greatest effort to destroy it. The spiritual power behind Amalek (which is the Satan himself) realizes that our greatest strength is the Torah. It therefore does its’ outmost to stop the Torah learning, its’ teaching and its’ financial support[12]. On the other hand, each Jew that is learning Torah is in some way contributing in the war effort against Amalek.


Even though the general war against Amalek is continuous throughout history, there are certain times when we encounter this nation for the decisive battles. This happens every time our nation is on the rise, ready for great rectifications. Of course this is the general rule of every battle: when one opponent prepares to make significant progress the other gathers the entire remaining strength to stop him.


The first time we met Amalek was after the Exodus from Egypt and right before giving of the Torah. The second time was after Shaul[13], the first Jewish king was anointed and before the building of the first Temple. The next time we met Amalek was in the end of Babylonian exile, before the building of the Second Temple. At that time Haman the Agagi, a royal descendant of Amalekite kings wanted to destroy our entire nation[14].


The Talmud (Sanhedrin 97b) tells us that in the end of days, if we don’t return to the Creator voluntarily, a ruler like Haman will again try to destroy all of us. This will remind the Jewish people who they are and cause us to come back to the Creator. As it is known, Hitler demonstrated all the qualities of Amalek. Even though Hitler was not an extremely wise or educated man, somehow he did understand a number of significant points. It is known from his writings and from his conversations with his subordinates, that he considered the Jewish people his archenemy. The rest of WWII was “just a show” while the main battle was between him and the Jews. Hitler considered his main goal to destroy what the Jewish people brought to the world[15].


The Baaley Teshuvah movement to return to Torah observance started after WWII. Each year hundreds of Jews throughout the world join the ranks of the Torah observant Jewry. According to the statisticians and demographers in another 20 years the vast majority of the Jews throughout the world will be Orthodox. It is our hope that we will soon deserve to greet the righteous Moshiach and to see the final destruction of Amalek and its’ philosophy.




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[1] See Ramchal in the second part of Kinas Hashem Tzeva-os explains this in depth starting with Maamar: Inyan Amalek, in the standard edition of Ginzey Ramchal it’s on page 106).


[2] This nations concentrates in it the root of all spiritual impurity, see note above. The gematria of Amalek is the same as “other god” from the verse (Shemos 34:14) “don’t worship another god”, for Amalek the exact opposite of everything holy (Shaarey Haleshem).


[3] See Shemos Raba 26:2.


[4] Midrash Tanchuma, Beshalach, 25.


[5] To be more precise, the ancient Amalekites were not exactly Atheists but dogmatically rejected the Creator. At the same time they were quite superstitious and believed in “black magic”, (see Haman’s letter in Ester Raba 7:13). They specifically chose to send to battle the “lucky” people whose Mazel is strong on that day (Yalkut Shimoni, Remez 564, see also Rashi and Rabeynu Bachye, Shemos 17:9).


[6] See Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Setze 9.


[7] See Shemos Raba 26:3, See also Abarbanel and Alshich Hakodesh.


[8] However see Rambam (Mlachim 6:4) that if an Amalekite converts to Judaism he is no longer considered an Amalekite, (see also Kesef Mishna there and Shevet Halevi 5:149).


[9] A special government body in the early Soviet history consisting of Communist Jews whose goal was to eradicate Torah observance. They accomplished the task par excellence by executing some of the Rabbis and observant Jews and sending the rest to Siberia. Once they were no longer needed Stalin executed practically all of them.


[10] See the words of Rav Elchanan Wasserman in Maasay Lemelech. Much of our commentary to this Parsha is based on his holy words.


[11] See Teshuvos Vehanhagos 3:223 that this spiritual war against Amalek applies at all times.


[12] The financial support of the Torah is compared to the legs in the body. When Yakov encountered Satan and won the battle against him, he emerged lame. It is thus taught that in the end of days the Satan will try to hinder the financial support of Yeshivos.


[13] It seems that Shaul’s war with Amalek was not yet the full fulfillment of the Torah’s command to destroy that nation (see Teshuvos Vehanhagos 3:222). Shaul considered his war to be rather a specific prophesy of Shmuel and a partial rectification. This may be the reason why he captured the Amalekite king Agag alive (see also Meam Loez). Apparently in Shaul’s time there was already more than one place where Amalekites resided. Shaul’s waged war against a particular territory of Amalek and did not involve other Amalekites subgroups living in various areas. We thus find Dovid fighting against Amalekites just a year after Shaul’s battle (this answers the question raised by Ohel Dovid).


[14] According to our sages (Ester Raba 7:2, see Rashi to Ester 9:10) Haman and his children were personally involved in the slander that caused stopping of the building of the Second Temple.


[15] In a recently published book “Tik Germania” there is a deep discussion about the entire topic and the various parallels between Hitler’s and Amalek’s ideology.