Shabbat-Table Talks: Parashat Zachor

To read last year's Table Talk  click here.

 

 

By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <tawil@bezeqint.net>

 

[This weeks Shabbat Table Talks is dedicated by Jordan Samstein and Sharon Hertan and their families in memory of their mother and grandmother Elaine, on the occasion of her yahrzeit.]

Value: Eradicating Evil. Real evil exists in the world, and it must be rooted out completely. Although this idea has become popular again during the war against terrorism and following President Bush’s Axis-of-Evil speech, it has been a part of the Torah.  How can we eradicate evil? How do we define evil? Who does the defining? These are all questions that can confuse the application of this value. This Shabbat Table Talk will explore some of these issues.

 

Background: As a fulfillment of the Torah’s commandment to “remember what Amaleq did to you and in anticipation of Purim, we read one of the sections of the Torah where the Torah describes the battle against Amaleq. According to most Halakhic authorities, this is the only Torah reading of the year that is “de`oraita” (commanded by the Torah).

 

Text: Debarim 25:17-19

Remember what Amaleq did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Lord, your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amaleq from under heaven. Do not forget.

 

Analysis: Shemuel the prophet defined the term “blotting out the memory of Amaleq” to mean: “Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys” (1 Samuel 15:3). This stands as a most important commandment. The section begins with the commandment to “remember,” and ends with the order “don’t forget.” Yet, the value of eradicating evil and its connection to Perashat “Zachor” (the opening Hebrew word of the above section) is somewhat difficult to teach. Of course, everyone agrees that we should eradicate evil. However, it is hard to understand the Torah’s commandments to kill every man, woman and infant of Amaleq. In the period of the war against terrorism that we are presently in, it is somewhat easier to understand it, but not completely. Rambam has mitigated the absoluteness of this law when it comes to practice. In addition, the Torah has limited the practical application of the law to only the nation of Amaleq. Our Rabbinic tradition has already decided that it is impossible, after the Assyrian empire’s mixing up the various nations, to identify any one nation as Amaleq. Still the commandment stands and can be applied towards evil in general. Evil must be eradicated.

 

Discussion: What did Amaleq do? (This nation attacked Bne Yisrael when they left Egypt. Amaleq attacked the stragglers—the weak and defenseless).

 

Why is that so bad? (The Torah describes Amaleq as “not fearing God” and as “attacking the stragglers.” These traits are destructive to society. Society is based on fearing God, and not attacking those that are weak. The honesty and integrity and the protection of the weak that define a God-fearing society are essential to have a cohesive society. Amaleq’s behavior is destructive to society, therefore it must be eradicated.)

 

How can it be right to kill even Amaleq’s infants? After all, they are innocent? (This question must be addressed, even though there is hardly a very satisfactory answer for it. This is a seeming clash between our sense of right and wrong and the Torah’s commandment—at least, in the way that Samuel the prophet has defined it. What the Torah is teaching is that some nations are so evil, that every person who identifies with that nation must be destroyed. Perhaps, if anyone of that nation is left alive, the Evil culture of that nation will resurface and create more problems in the future. We must be aware that as far as the total eradication of a nation, that only applies to the nation of Amaleq, which, does not exist today.)

 

Rambam, when discussing the Torah laws pertaining to war, explained that the law of blotting out the memory of Amaleq only applies if they have not made peace with Bne Yisrael, and have not accepted upon themselves the seven Noahide laws. If they have then Bne Yisrael is not to go to war against them. From this we could learn that if Amaleq accepted these conditions they have changed their basic culture and are no longer targets for annihilation. The evil culture must be eradicated, either by destroying the people that hold fast to this culture of evil, or by having them change their beliefs and culture. The seven Noahide laws contain within them: respect for God (not to curse God) and the setting up of a legal justice system. An Amaleq nation that accepts these conditions is essentially not Amaleq culturally and therefore not slated for annihilation.

 

If the nation of Amaleq doesn’t exist today, how are we supposed to understand this misvah? (We could understand it as talking about eradicating all evil, not only by killing, but also by educating. Evil exists in the form of taking advantage of the weak, lying cheating and stealing. We must develop our society and educate it to the point where these practices are eliminated.)

 

Evil also exists today in the form of terrorism. Why is terrorism Evil? (Because its victims are innocent and defenseless.) Terrorism and those who support and incite towards it must be eradicated. Yielding to the terrorist’s demands is not the way to accomplish this. Giving to the demands of terrorists invites more demands and further terrorism. Eradicating terrorism can only be done by an all-out war against terrorists until the people who remain renounce terrorism. It does not require killing of every person, but only those people who commit, support terrorism and those that incite towards terrorism.

 

We pray to Hashem that the United States will be successful eradicating world-wide terrorism, so that the we can work together peacefully towards resolving the many problems that face us.

 

To read last year's Table Talk click here.

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