Our Protection from Amalek
On Shabbat Zachor, we read the final three verses in Parashat Ki-Teseh which command us to remember the unprovoked attack launched against our ancestors when they left Egypt by the nation of Amalek. This attack occurred in a place called Refidim, and the Sages teach us that this location was so named because while Beneh Yisrael were there, "Rafu Yedehem Min Ha’Torah" – they became lax in their engagement in Torah study. It was on account of this laxity, we are taught, that G-d brought upon us the vicious attack of Amalek.
In commanding us to remember this incident, G-d instructs, "Remember what Amalek did to you." Despite the fact that this unfortunate incident was our own doing, a result of our failure to properly devote ourselves to Torah, G-d nevertheless describes the war as something brought upon us by Amalek, rather than something we brought upon ourselves. One Rabbi compared this to a king who had a close friend whom he trusted and regarded very highly. The friend, however, proved unworthy of this trust, and one night tried to break into the palace. The guard dogs immediately began to bark loudly, chasing the man away. The king heard about the incident, and summoned his friend to the palace.
"I’m really sorry about those dogs," he said. "It’s terrible the way they frightened you. They should never have done that."
Although it was obviously the man’s fault that the dogs attacked him, the king, out of his unconditional love for his friend, focused on the dogs’ aggressiveness rather than the friend’s grave breach of trust.
Similarly, Amalek’s assault Beneh Yisrael was because of our "breach," due to our failure to properly devote ourselves to Torah. Yet, in speaking about this incident G-d begins by focusing not on our failure, but on the brutality of Amalek. This expresses just how much G-d loves and cares for His people, how even in our times of failure He wishes for our wellbeing and looks angrily upon those who oppress us.
In the next verse, however, G-d indeed draws our attention to the cause of Amalek’s attack. He describes how at the time of this attack Beneh Yisrael were "tired and weary, and not G-d-fearing." Rashi explains the phrase "and not G-d-fearing" as referring to Amalek, but according to the Or Ha’haim, it refers to Beneh Yisrael’s condition at that time. Because they were "tired and weary" – lax and apathetic toward Torah study – their Yir’at Shamaim declined. Torah study is what keeps us alert and sensitive to our religious duties, and thus when our devotion to learning is lacking, so is our overall devotion to G-d. And when this happens, we become vulnerable to "Amalek," to the many adversaries that threaten us and seek to perpetrate evil against us.
This is the fundamental message of Shabbat Zachor – the importance of Torah learning as our source of protection against Amalek and our other foes. As long as we remain committed and dedicated to Torah study, our enemies are powerless against us. As we recite at the Seder, "Ve’hi She’ameda La’abotenu" – it, the Torah, is what has stood in protection of our people throughout the generations.
Particularly in our day and age, when enemies of the Jewish people pose such a grave threat to our existence both in Israel and around the world, we must heed the reminder of "Zachor," the warning of "Rafu Yedehem Min Ha’Torah." When we are "tired and weary," when we do not approach Torah study with the vigor and intensity it demands, then we become vulnerable, as we lose our single most important source of protection and defense.