As we encounter Purim, let us delve more deeply into the unique spiritual and existential battle that the Jewish People must continue to wage against the philosophy of Amalek. Amalek first appeared on the scene when they attacked klal Yisrael in the midbar, on their journey to Har Sinai. The most striking aspect of this attack was its timing.
Hashem had just performed the Makos and split the Yam Suf for the Jewish People – acts that had worldwide reverberations. The Jewish People were viewed as invincible and untouchable, and exactly at this moment, Amalek chose to attack the Jewish People, undertaking a (practically) suicidal battle with zero provocation. What was their motivation to undertake such a mission? This question can be extended to the Purim story, as well. Haman, suddenly promoted to second in command, makes it his mission to wipe out the entire Jewish People. As a descendant of Amalek, he is clearly continuing their legacy of Jewish obliteration. Why is it that, throughout history, people have made it their singular focus to wipe out the Jewish People? And why is this the spiritual legacy of Amalek? In order to answer this question, we must examine the fundamental principles of Jewish belief, based on the 13 Ikarei Emunah (Principles of Faith) delineated by the Rambam in his commentary on perek Cheilek in Sanhedrin.
Three Fundamental Principles
The first fundamental principle of Jewish belief is that Hashem is the Creator of the world. He is the Source of time, space, and all of existence.
The second principle is that Hashem has a direct relationship with this physical world. This is the concept of hashgachah – that Hashem oversees and controls the events of this world.
The third fundamental principle is that there is a purpose to this world and our lives within it. There is not a single aspect of life that is random; rather, each and every occurrence and interaction is part of an infinitely beautiful grand plan, a cosmic symphony, a masterpiece designed by Hashem.
While Amalek does not tend to focus on the first of these principles, their entire existence is devoted toward destroying the second and third of these principles. Amalek claims that, although Hashem may exist, He has absolutely no connection to us or our world. Our lives are therefore meaningless, and this world is devoid of spirituality.
This destructive conviction is embodied in the pasuk describing Amalek’s attack on the Jewish People. As we read in Parshas Zachor, we must remember what Amalek did to us: “asher korcha ba’derech – how they happened upon us while we were traveling” (D’varim 25:18). The word korcha is peculiar, and Rashi therefore quotes three interpretations of this word, each fundamental and significant.
- Randomness and Happenstance
The first explanation of the word korcha is based on its connection to the word “karah” (happenstance). This interpretation reflects Amalek’s claim that everything in this world is random and meaningless. There is no hashgachah, no Divine providence. Anything that happens to you, whether bad or good, has no deeper meaning or significance behind it. Amalek implied that they just “happened” to be there with swords in hand, ready for battle; they simply “chanced” upon the Jewish People as they were on the way.
This is the exact approach that Haman took when plotting to kill the Jews. He did not rationally calculate a date on which to kill the Jews, but rather he specifically chose one through a pur (lottery). A lottery represents and embodies randomness and chance. Haman let the luck of the draw determine when he would kill the Jews, an act of devotion to “karah.” The gematria of “Amalek” is the same as that of the word safeik (doubt). Amalek represents doubt and uncertainty, randomness and chaos.
- Keri: Spiritual Marriage
The second interpretation offered by Rashi connects the word korcha to “keri,” a concept linked to marital impurity. Judaism views marriage as a lofty mitzvah; the relationship between husband and wife holds incredible spiritual potential. The Ramban explains that the relationship between man and wife ideally reflects the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish People. It is a relationship of spiritual and existential oneness where potential is developed and actualized.
Amalek, however, claims that marriage is no more than animalistic mating, a relationship devoid of higher meaning and spirituality. The name Amalek shares its root with the word m’likah, which is the process of removing the head from the body of a bird before it is offered as a sacrifice. The head is the highest part of the body, representing the mind and the spiritual; the body is the lower part, representing the physical. Ideally, the two are harmoniously connected (and the head [spiritual] influences the outer expression of the body [physical]). Amalek attempts to disconnect the head from the body, to disconnect the spiritual (head) from the physical (body), claiming that there is no spirituality within the physical world, no meaning, and no connection to Hashem or anything higher.
- Kor: Cooling the Flame
Rashi’s third explanation of the word korcha is based on a midrash that relates the word to “kor” (cold). The midrash describes the mashal of a boiling hot bath of water that nobody dares jump into for fear of being scalded. Along comes a man and boldly jumps into the boiling water, severely burning himself in the process. Although he burned himself, he has now cooled the water enough to allow others to follow suit and jump in, as well.
This is what Amalek did as the Jewish People traveled from Egypt to Har Sinai. After Hashem performed the ten Makos and took the Jewish People out of Mitzrayim, Hashem’s providence was flamingly clear in the world. The nations of the world were ready to accept Hashem and His Torah, and they began flocking toward Har Sinai to join the Jewish People in accepting the Torah. (The Ramchal explains at the end of Derech Hashem that until the Torah was given, any nation could have joined klal Yisrael. See Z’vachim 116a.) The Jewish People were at the height of their success, about to receive the Torah, and the other nations were ready to accept the Torah along with them. At this point, Amalek attacked the Jewish People, undertaking a nearly suicidal mission.
Although the Jewish People won, Amalek showed the other nations that the Jews were not as invincible as they seemed. They “jumped into the scalding bath,” i.e., attacked the Jewish People, and “cooled the waters,” i.e., showed the other nations that the Jewish People were vulnerable to attack. Why did Amalek do this? Why were they willing to burn themselves simply to weaken the Jewish People?
The Philosophy of Amalek
Amalek rejects Hashem’s connection to this world or any connection between the spiritual and the physical. Essentially, Amalek denies Hashem’s control of this world and the ability for man to uplift himself to the level of the spiritual. Torah is the epitome of both of these principles, and it provides the guidelines for how to achieve this spiritual elevation. It is based on the axiom of Hashem’s connection with this world, and it is the means for elevating ourselves and all of physicality to a higher purpose. Amalek stands in direct opposition to this; and when they saw that not only the Jewish People but the entire world was ready to adopt the Torah way of life, they had no choice but to attack. Amalek’s entire existence is predicated on a lack of connection between Hashem and this world; therefore, a complete acceptance of that principle by all the nations of the world would mean the cessation of Amalek’s existence.
Amalek attacked the Jewish People in order to prevent Matan Torah – to stop the world from accepting Hashem’s Torah and the truth that lies within it. And although Amalek was sorely beaten with only a few survivors, they still managed to slay a few Jewish warriors. They showed that the Jews were not invincible, “cooling” down the excitement of all the nations of the world and paralyzing their readiness to accept the Torah.
Amalek won. Physically, they lost, but in a deeper way, they won. The nations of the world walked away, turning down the opportunity to accept Hashem and His Torah.
Why Isn’t Hashem Mentioned in the Megillah?
Megillas Esther is unique in that it is one of the only books in Tanach in which Hashem’s name is not mentioned. This is because Purim marks a transition in history, when our battle against Amalek manifested in a new form. Until Purim, history was permeated with consistent open miracles, n’vuah was common, and Hashem was openly revealed in the world.
The second stage, ushered in by Purim, is characterized by hidden miracles. In our present world, Hashem is no longer openly manifest and clearly visible. In this stage, we must choose to see Hashem within the darkness – to peer past the façade of a meaningless world. It is in this stage that Amalek’s claims are all the more tempting to believe, as it is so easy to ignore Hashem’s involvement in this world. Our challenge is to see past the surface, to see the miraculous within the natural, the ethereal within the mundane, and the infinite within the finite.
A Timeless Battle
Amalek fights for a G-d-less reality, devoid of spirituality and meaning: a world of Haman, of doubt, where a gap exists between us and Hashem. Only when you look more closly, deepening your gaze, do you see the deeper layer of reality, the transcendent root. Hashem is echad – one – and our goal is to see the spiritual oneness inherent within every event and object in this world. Amalek seeks to hide the truth, to disconnect us from our Source, and thus to strip all meaning from life. Only when we see past the surface, when we trace everything that happens in this world back to Hashem – our spiritual Source – will we ultimately defeat Amalek and all that they stand for.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an international speaker, educator, and the CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received s’micha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in Jewish Thought, and then spent a year studying at Harvard. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UChicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.