To Listen & Remember: Parshat Zachor, March 15
What is the mitzvah of Parshat Zachor and why is remembering before Purim so important? After all, there is a custom to say this as part of a number of remembrances after the daily morning prayers. Join this class and we will explore this topic through the Gemara, Rambam, Sefer hachinuch, and other sources.
To Listen & Remember: Parshat Zachor, March 15: Lesson 1
In yesterday’s shiur we studied the mitzvah to fight the nation of Amalek until it is eradicated. We focused on two questions which are related to each other:
1) Does the nation of Amalek still exist?
2) Do we accept converts from the nation of Amalek?
The Torah contains the commandments to fight two wars. The first war was the fight to conquer the Land of Israel and to remove the “Seven Nations” who lived there. The second war is the war to destroy totally the nation of Amalek. We were commanded to eradicate the Seven Nations in order to prevent their corrupting us.
שמות פרק כג
(לא) וְשַׁתִּי אֶת גְּבֻלְךָ מִיַּם סוּף וְעַד יָם פְּלִשְׁתִּים וּמִמִּדְבָּר עַד הַנָּהָר כִּי אֶתֵּן בְּיֶדְכֶם אֵת יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ וְגֵרַשְׁתָּמוֹ מִפָּנֶיךָ:
(לב) לֹא תִכְרֹת לָהֶם וְלֵאלֹהֵיהֶם בְּרִית:
(לג) לֹא יֵשְׁבוּ בְּאַרְצְךָ פֶּן יַחֲטִיאוּ אֹתְךָ לִי כִּי תַעֲבֹד אֶת אֱלֹהֵיהֶם כִּי יִהְיֶה לְךָ לְמוֹקֵשׁ:
Since the requirement to eradicate the Seven Nations was to prevent their leading us astray it follows that should members of the Seven Nations accept the duties of the Torah they would be permitted to remain in Israel.
This is what the Talmud Yerushalmi says:
תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת שביעית פרק ו
שלש פרסטיניות שלח יהושע לארץ ישראל עד שלא יכנסו לארץ מי שהוא רוצה להפנות יפנה להשלים ישלים לעשות מלחמה יעשה
The Rambam rules in accordance with the idea of the Yerushalmi, with one surprising addition:
רמב”ם הלכות מלכים פרק ו
…אבל שבעה עממין ועמלק שלא השלימו אין מניחין מהם נשמה שנאמר כן תעשה לכל וגו’ רק מערי העמים לא תחיה כל נשמה, וכן הוא אומר בעמלק תמחה את זכר עמלק, ומנין שאינו מדבר אלא באלו שלא השלימו שנאמר לא היתה עיר אשר השלימה אל בני ישראל בלתי החוי יושבי גבעון את הכל לקחו במלחמה כי מאת ה’ היתה לחזק את לבם לקראת המלחמה את ישראל למען החרימם, מכלל ששלחו להם לשלום ולא קבלו.
The Rambam rules that not only do the Seven Nations have an option to accept the duties of the Torah and to make peace with us, so does Amalek. That the Seven Nations have this opportunity is implied in the Torah and is made clear in the Talmud Yerushalmi. But what is the Rambam’s basis for saying this about Amalek?
This question is difficult to answer because the Torah seems to demand that we wage unconditional war on Amalek.
(יד) וַיֹּאמֶר יְיָ אֶל מֹשֶׁה כְּתֹב זֹאת זִכָּרוֹן בַּסֵּפֶר וְשִׂים בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ כִּי מָחֹה אֶמְחֶה אֶת זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם:
(טו) וַיִּבֶן מֹשֶׁה מִזְבֵּחַ וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ יְיָ נִסִּי:
(טז) וַיֹּאמֶר כִּי יָד עַל כֵּס יָ-הּ מִלְחָמָה לַייָ בַּעֲמָלֵק מִדֹּר דֹּר:
(יט) וְהָיָה בְּהָנִיחַ יְיָ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לְךָ מִכָּל אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְיָ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ תִּמְחֶה אֶת זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם לֹא תִּשְׁכָּח:
The Avnei Nezer explains the basis for the Rambam’s ruling.
The Avnei Nezer begins his analysis by asking, why are we told to destroy Amalek? Hashem commands us to never forget that Amalek attacked us as we left Egypt and that is why we must destroy them. But, the Avnei Nezer asks, doesn’t such vindictiveness contradict the Torah’s rule that children are not to be punished for the sins of their parents?
The Avnei Nezer answers that Amalek’s attack on us as we left Egypt proves that they have an irrational hatred for Jews. Amalek’s was pointless and irrational. We were not going to pass through Amalek’s territory and we had no interest in ever doing so. Amalek attacked us out of hatred. This hatred appeared again in Persia. Haman was the prime minister of the Persian Empire. Everyone in the court of the king bowed to him. He had power, wealth and family. But as he says to his wife, all of this means nothing to him while Mordechai the Jew refuses to bow to him:
אסתר פרק ה
(יא) וַיְסַפֵּר לָהֶם הָמָן אֶת כְּבוֹד עָשְׁרוֹ וְרֹב בָּנָיו וְאֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר גִּדְּלוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר נִשְּׂאוֹ עַל הַשָּׂרִים וְעַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ:
(יב) וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן אַף לֹא הֵבִיאָה אֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה עִם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל הַמִּשְׁתֶּה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂתָה כִּי אִם אוֹתִי וְגַם לְמָחָר אֲנִי קָרוּא לָהּ עִם הַמֶּלֶךְ:
(יג) וְכָל זֶה אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁוֶה לִי בְּכָל עֵת אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי רֹאֶה אֶת מָרְדֳּכַי הַיְּהוּדִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ:
If Haman would have been a run-of-the-mill egomaniac he would have killed Mordechai and that would have made him happy. But that was not enough for Haman:
אסתר פרק ג
(ו) וַיִּבֶז בְּעֵינָיו לִשְׁלֹחַ יָד בְּמָרְדֳּכַי לְבַדּוֹ כִּי הִגִּידוּ לוֹ אֶת עַם מָרְדֳּכָי וַיְבַקֵּשׁ הָמָן לְהַשְׁמִיד אֶת כָּל הַיְּהוּדִים אֲשֶׁר בְּכָל מַלְכוּת אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ עַם מָרְדֳּכָי:
Haman as an Amalek was not happy with only killing Mordechai. Haman had to kill all the Jews, men, women and children. Nothing else could satisfy him. This irrational hatred for Jews is part of the personality of every Amalekite and that is why our fight with them is eternal and will only be resolved when Mashiach comes. Our fight with Amalek is not retribution for past crimes, it is a matter of self-preservation.
Since Amalek’s hatred for Jews is part of their national personality this explains why we do not accept converts from Amalek. The fact that an Amalek may express willingness to observe the Torah does not prove that he (or she) is free of hatred towards Jews. The Rambam holds however that when the Jewish people are the rulers of Israel and an Amalek wishes to live under the rule of a Jewish state then we may be assured that he (or she) no longer hates us.
Why is this so? I think the answer to this question can be found in Rav Shagar’s explanation of Amalek. Rav Shagar saw a connection between Amalek and Nietzsche. Nietzsche was the philosopher of power. Where other thinkers expounded value systems based on what could be described as Judeo-Christian morality, Nietzsche wrote trenchantly and powerfully against such systems. He saw conventional morality as limiting and hampering the ability of superior people to realize their full potential. For Nietzsche the right of the “superman” to achieve greatness is the only worthy goal of a moral system. Rav Shagar sees Haman as a Nietzschean. As we saw in the pesukim from the Megillat Esther having partial power was not enough for Haman. Mordechai’s refusal to bow to Haman represented the refusal of the Jews to accept raw power as being superior. Not only the individual who refused to kneel before power had to be destroyed but the entire nation which produced such a person had to be destroyed. That was what drove Haman the Amalekite to attempt to wipe out the Jews and this Nietzschean ideology is latent in every Amalekite.
But what happens when an Amalekite sees that it is the Jews with their moral system have achieved military and political power? If under those conditions an Amalekite accepts the Torah the Rambam says we may accept him as a convert. The Avnei Nezer says that when the Amalekite sees the Jews not only as the bearers of a moral message but also as the rulers of a country he may acknowledge fully that he needs to obey the Torah.
Are there still Amaleks in the world? The Rambam presents us with a puzzling perspective on this question.
On the one hand, the Rambam says that the mitzvah to attack the Seven Nations is no longer relevant:
רמב”ם הלכות מלכים פרק ה הלכה ד
מצות עשה להחרים שבעה עממין שנאמר החרם תחרימם, וכל שבא לידו אחד מהן ולא הרגו עובר בלא תעשה שנאמר לא תחיה כל נשמה, וכבר אבד זכרם.
All traces of the Seven Nations have vanished.
However, by Amalek he writes:
וכן מצות עשה לאבד זכר עמלק, שנאמר תמחה את זכר עמלק, ומצות עשה לזכור תמיד מעשיו הרעים ואריבתו, כדי לעורר איבתו, שנאמר זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק, מפי השמועה למדו זכור בפה לא תשכח בלב, שאסור לשכוח איבתו ושנאתו.
Why didn’t the Rambam write that Amalek no longer exists? Just as we can no longer identify Hittites and Emorites there are no longer any identifiable Amalekites. Against whom must we battle?
Rav Soloveitchik zt”l quotes the answer that his father zt”l gave to this question. Rav Moshe Soloveitchik zt”l explained that Amalek is not a nation in the usual sense. Amalek is an ideology. Any nation which dedicates itself to the destruction of the Jews is Amalek. Nazi Germany was Amalek. When Rav Soloveitchik wrote his essay he saw Nasser as Amalek. In our times we can see Amalek in Hizbollah, Hamas and ISIS. When Mashiach comes we will see the final defeat of all irrational hatred and the end of Amalek.
I hope you enjoyed the shiur. Stuart Fischman
 This is the view of the Mekhiltah. We saw that according to the Talmud Bavli descendants of Haman himself studied Torah in Bnei Brak.
Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. In 1989 he began studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar and now studies and teaches at Yeshivat Machanaim in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.