Former Shaliach in Atlanta
This coming Shabbat, we will observe a unique mitzvah d’oraita (a mitzvah from the Torah) – remembering Amalek.
Why are we commanded to remember this enemy and this war specifically?
The Midrash (Pesikta 12:12) employs a parable to answer this question: The son of the king’s courtier went to the king’s orchard to pick fruit, and the king’s guard dog bit the boy. Later, the king wanted to remind the boy not to try and steal again. However, instead of speaking of the crime itself, the king opted to talk about the dog and allow the boy to get the message on his own.
Clearly, the dog represents Amalek. Yet, what do the “stolen fruit” symbolize? What sin enabled Amalek to “bite” Bnei Yisrael?
Chazal’s explanation is based on the following pasuk:
“Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.” (Shmot 17:8)
What happened in Rephidim? Immediately before the war with Amalek – after witnessing Kriat Yam Suf (the Splitting of the Sea) and receiving the man – Bnei Yisrael arrived in Rephidim, where there was no water. Bnei Yisrael demanded that Moshe provide them with water and even complained:
“Why is this that you have brought us up from Egypt?” (Shmot 17:3)
Moshe turned to Hashem, and Hashem told Moshe to hit the rock and cause it to produce water for the thirsty nation.
Subsequently, Rephidim was given a new name – Masah U’Merivah (literally, “test and contention”):
“He called the place Masah U’Merivah; because of the quarrel of the Children of Israel and because of their testing of Hashem, saying, is Hashem in our midst or not?” (Shmot 17:7)
In other words, Bnei Yisrael dared to test Hashem – to see if He was capable of performing miracles for their sake!
According to the Midrash, Bnei Yisrael’s lack of faith in Hashem and Moshe, His navi, is “stealing the fruit” – i.e. the sin that enabled Amalek (“the dog”) to attack Bnei Yisrael.
Yet, we still have not answered our original question: Why are we specifically commanded to remember the war against Amalek, which reminds us of the events of Rephidim?
In Pri Tzadik (Parshat Zachor 9), R’ Tzadok HaCohen addresses this question. He notes that Bnei Yisrael’s lack of faith at Rephidim serves as an important lesson for all of us, throughout the generations.
Bnei Yisraelobserved the Plagues in Egypt and took part in the Exodus. Immediately thereafter, they witnessed the incredible miracles of Kriat Yam Suf. Indeed, Chazal teach that during the latter event, the entire nation achieved a state of prophecy:
“A maidservant saw at the Sea that which Yechezkel never saw.” (Mechilta -Parshat HaShirah 3 and other sources)
Nevertheless, several days later, those very same people displayed a lack of faith and trust in Hashem and Moshe. In spite of the lofty spiritual heights to which they had soared, Bnei Yisrael committed this grave sin and attempted to test Hashem.
R’ Tzadok explains that that this is the reason why we must always remember the war against Amalek: It reminds us of that which took place in Rephidim. We must realize that each person has his or her own personal challenges, and we must always recall that each one of us – no matter our spiritual level – can easily stumble and fall.
When we read Parshat Zachor, we are reminded to remain ever vigilant and to act with care. May we all be privileged to observe the mitzvah of “remember what Amalek did to you” (Devarim 25:17) meticulously and scrupulously.