July 13, 2024
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This Shabbos we will be reading Parshat Zachor, where we are bidden to always remember Amalek. In Shemot (17:8-16) we read that Amalek became a mighty Nomad tribe. They were the first to attack the new nation of Israel. By doing so, they showed they had no fear of God, and broke the reputation of invincibility that the Jews had earned up until that point.

What was so different about the attack of Amalek? Why are we told in Devarim (25:17-19) that, of all our enemies, we are never to forget them in particular? What does it mean when the Torah foretells that Hashem will be waging war against Amalek in each and every generation? Perhaps the answer lies in the tactics that they used, terrorism.

Amalek was not a conventional army that fought the Israelite army. Traditionally, when countries go to war, they have their professional soldiers fight each other. They do not act dishonorably and exclusively target unarmed civilian populations. Amalek was different. Amalek struck the powerless civilians who straggled behind. They did not fight for land or national honor. Instead, they were vulture-like in their tactics, picking off the weak and feeble. In doing so, their aim was to demoralize the new nation of Israel by striking at the weak, the women, the children and the elderly.

We next read about Amalek in Shmuel (30:1-2, 9-13). While two powerful nations were at war with each other, Amalek sneaked in and raided their cities. They burned down the city of Ziklag and captured all the women while their husbands were away at war. Again, they acted dishonorably and targeted the civilian population. Due to their heinous tactics, King Saul was instructed by God, through the prophet, Shmuel, to wipe out Amalek entirely. He sinned by leaving their king, Agag, alive and plundering the cattle. Saul believed he could somehow placate the Amalek king and negotiate a peaceful resolution. In effect, he believed he was smarter than God. This turned out to be a tragic mistake that later led to Haman and the story of Purim.

Terrorism takes place when any person or group willfully causes serious bodily injury or property damage in a civilian context in order to intimidate the population and compel a government to grant their desired political goals. Benjamin Netanyahu, in his book “Fighting Terrorism” (2001), points out that, historically, terrorism has never succeeded. A scholarly journal article that studied 125 terror campaigns similarly concluded that terrorism only strengthens the resolve of governments and never accomplishes its stated goals.

In our own time, terrorism is a significant threat. Groups such as ISIS have struck, Amalek style, at civilian targets throughout the Middle East and Europe. Their cowardly attacks prey on civilians, perpetrating acts meant to frighten the population into submission. Terrorists have mowed down bicyclists in Manhattan, threatened Jews in France and stabbed innocent civilians, such as Rav Itamar Ben-Gal, in Israel. Terrorist threats such as these are becoming rampant and routine. I am now seeing many synagogues in otherwise tranquil neighborhoods post armed guards.

At times like these we need to remember the lesson of King Saul and not simply seek to pacify those who perpetuate anti-Semitic acts, trying to intimidate our people by using terrorist tactics. Instead, as the Torah instructs, we must act aggressively to eradicate those who engage in Amalek-style tactics. The actual nation of Amalek may no longer exist. However, their ideology and tactics still abound.

We are to take courage and we are comforted by the words in Shemot (17:16) that promises us that Hashem Himself will fight the forces of Amalek in each and every generation wherever it raises its ugly head. Ultimately, as we are about to celebrate our Purim victory against our enemies, we as a Jewish people and civilized people elsewhere will surely prevail with Hashem’s help.

By Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg

Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic clinical psychologist and president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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