For the week ending 23 March 2024 / 13 Adar Bet 5784

Taamei Hamitzvos - Remembering Amalek

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Reasons Behind the Mitzvos: Remembering Amalek

By Rabbi Shmuel Kraines

“Study improves the quality of the act and completes it, and a mitzvah is more beautiful when it emerges from someone who understands its significance.” (Meiri, Bava Kama 17a)

Mitzvos in Sefer HaChinuch: #603: To remember what Amalek did to us. #604:To annihilate them. #605: Not to forget what Amalek did.


Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you departed from Egypt. [Remember] that which they met you on the way and smote those at the back of your [encampment], while you were tired and weary [tired and thirsty from travel, and worn out from the ordeal of escaping from the Egyptian army], and he did not fear Hashem. Therefore, when Hashem Your God relieves you of all your enemies around you in the land that Hashem your God is giving to you as an inheritance, wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens; do not forget!

We were very far from Amalek’s territory and posed no threat to them (See Malbim). However, the Amalekite people are heretical and hate Hashem and all that represents him in this world. They understood that Hashem had just redeemed for himself the Jewish People and was leading them to establish Hashem’s Kingdom in Eretz Yisrael, and they sought to prevent that from occurring. They succeeded to some extent, as their attack caused our neighboring nations to lose their fear for us.

We are commanded to remember Amalek and realize that whoever attacks the Jewish People is despised by Hashem, and in accordance with that enemy’s wickedness and that harm that he causes, so shall be the magnitude of his downfall. For this reason, since Amalek perpetrated a great evil against the Jewish People by initiating a battle against them, Hashem commanded us to eradicate them (Sefer Chinuch). There is a dispute amongst the Rishonim whether this mitzvah would apply today if Amalek would be identified, or whether it will only apply when Mashiach arrives.


On a simple level of understanding, the main mitzvah concerning Amalek is to annihilate this enemy of Hashem and His People. Doing so requires much effort and is only possible when the Jewish People have their own kingdom. Hashem knew that this would take many centuries, so He commanded us to remember it by reading the passage of Amalek at least once a year so that we do not forget it with time. In the words of Rambam: “Hashem commanded us to remember what Amalek did to us by attacking us without any prior provocation. We are therefore required to feel constant enmity toward Amalek and to remind ourselves of this regularly so that it does not fade with time.”


The Sages see this mitzvah from a second perspective as well. They compare Amalek’s attack to a king who surrounded a vineyard with a fence and placed a watchdog within. The king’s son breached the fence and was bitten by the dog. Whenever the king wanted to remind his son about his misdeed to prevent him from repeating it, he would tell him to remember what the dog did to him. So too, when the Jewish people left Egypt after having merited unfathomable Divine kindnesses and open miracles, they complained impudently that Hashem was not amongst them upon experiencing thirst in the wilderness. This breach of trust was like breaching the king’s vineyard, and “the dog,” Amalek, promptly smote them. When Hashem commands us to remember what the dog did to us, He means to remind us never to breach the faith of our relationship with Him (Midrash Tanchuma).

Hashem juxtaposes the mitzvah to remember Amalek to the mitzvah to maintain precise scales and weights, and the Sages infer from this that the punishment for dishonesty in business matters is the attack of the enemy. Rav Hirsch explains, based on the above Midrash, that dishonesty is rooted in a lack of faith that livelihood comes from Hashem, and the fitting punishment for this is an attack by the nation that represents lack of faith.


On a deeper level of understanding, Rav Moshe Alshich explains that every nation has an angelic counterpart in Heaven. Amalek is a scion of the wicked Esav, and his angelic counterpart is none other than Satan, who is also the evil inclination within each person. The feud between Yaakov and Eisav — good and evil — continues constantly between every Jew and his evil inclination. If a Jew sins, he increases the power of Amalek, and if he repents and acts righteously, the power of Amalek decreases. When we all conquer the spiritual Amalek by overcoming our evil inclinations, Hashem will immediately remove the physical Amalek from the earth. The evil in the world will be replaced with righteousness, and the Messianic kingdom of peace and holiness will become firmly established. This is why whenever the prophets often stress that repentance must precede the coming redemption. When Hashem commands us to remember Amalek, He means to remind each individual Jew to do his share in ridding the world of evil by emerging victorious over his personal moral struggles.

We emerge with the following explanation of the mitzvah to remember Amalek: We must remember Amalek’s attack so that we will cling to our faith in Hashem (reason two) and thereby overcome the spiritual Amalek within each of us (reason three), and eventually merit to remove Amalek from the world (reason one).

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