Parashat Sav: Zachor- Defeating Amalek
On Shabbat Zachor, we come to the synagogue to fulfill the obligation of remembering Amalek’s attack on Beneh Yisrael, and remembering our obligation to wage an unrelenting battle against the wicked nation of Amalek. In the times of Mashiah, we will be shown who the people of Amalek are, and we will then be required to wage war against them.
But what significance does this Misva have in our time? How do we fulfill the obligation to eradicate Amalek nowadays, when we do not know who the Amalekites are?
The story of Amalek’s attack on Beneh Yisrael is preceded by a different account, the incident of Masa U’meriva. Beneh Yisrael complained about the shortage of water in the desert, and questioned whether God was indeed accompanying them in their journeys. They asked, "Ha’yesh Hashem Be’kirbenu Im Ayin" – "Is God in our midst, or not?" (Shemot 17:7). And in the very next verse, the Torah writes, "Va’yabo Amalek" – Amalek came and waged war against Beneh Yisrael.
Rashi comments that God sent Amalek against Beneh Yisrael in response to their questioning His providence. God essentially told the people, "I took you from Egypt, split the sea for you, drowned the Egyptians, provided you with daily manna – and you ask whether I am with you?" He sent Amalek so that the people will then have no choice but to look to Him for assistance. Indeed, the war against Amalek was a miraculous one, as Moshe stood atop the mountain overlooking the battlefield, and as long as he kept his hands high in the air, Beneh Yisrael were victorious. As long as they looked to the heavens, acknowledging God’s presence and His providence, they were granted victory.
The war against Amalek is the war against doubts and questions surrounding our belief in God. In fact, the numerical value of the word Amalek, 240, is the same as the numerical value of the word "Safek" – doubt. Amalek’s objective is to rattle our belief in God, to shake our Emuna (faith). And this is a goal that they continue to pursue even after their attack on Beneh Yisrael in the desert. We read in the Megila that when Mordechai saw Haman – a descendant of Amalek – he did not bow or even budge ("Lo Kam Ve’lo Za Mimenu" – 5:9). Mordechai did not simply refuse to bow; he remained completely motionless. He did not even entertain the notion of bowing, as he was firmly resolute in his faith. And this aroused Haman’s ire, and led him to seek to destroy the Jewish people. As a descendant of Amalek, Haman was committed to waging war against the faith of the Jews.
And this war is waged today, as well. Even those of us who consider ourselves "believers" have doubts. If we truly believed that God is standing before us as we pray, our prayers would be of a much different quality. We would take the time to prepare ourselves before praying, wear our finest clothing, and pray intently. Our prayers are often causal, rote and mechanical precisely because of a shortcoming in our Emuna, because we are not as resolute in our faith as we must be. Indeed, Amalek continues waging war against us even today.
How do we wage this battle against Amalek? What can we do to bolster our faith and resist the assaults against our beliefs?
The Mishna instructs in Pirkeh Abot, "Aseh Lecha Rav Ve’histalek Min Ha’safek" – "Make for yourself a Rabbi, and avoid uncertainty." The way to avoid "Safek," to foil Amalek’s attempts to rattle our faith, is by having a Rabbi to whom we can turn for guidance and inspiration, particularly during times of crisis and uncertainty. A Rabbi is not paid simply to sit in a special seat in the synagogue and deliver a fifteen-minute speech. He is there for the people, to help guide them and help them remain secure in their faith, especially when their faith is threatened by life’s challenges. Indeed, in response to Amalek’s assault, Moshe appointed Yehoshua, his closest disciple, to lead the battle. The most qualified warrior to fight against Amalek is the faithful student, one who is close to his Rabbi, consults with him, and loyally follows his guidance.
The ongoing struggle against Amalek must be fought today with no less vigor – and perhaps with even greater vigor – than in previous generations. It is the battle of faith against doubt, belief against skepticism. And we win this battle by seeking guidance from our Rabbis, and looking to them as sources of inspiration. They will help us "avoid uncertainty," and overcome Amalek’s sinister ploys to destroy our resolute faith in the Almighty. And we will then be victorious over Amalek just as during the times of Mordechai and Ester, and, like in Shushan, we will be able to celebrate the defeat and downfall of all our enemies, including the most threatening enemy of all – the enemy of "Safek," of doubts and uncertainty.