Torat HaMoadim: The War against Amalek, and Monarchy in Israel (Part One)

In honor of Purim, notes from מלחמת עמלק ומלכות ישראל, written by Rav Shlomo Goren zt”l and published in תורת המועדים 

There are two chapters in the Torah regarding the “blotting out” of Amalek with seemingly contradictory perspectives.   The first is at the end of last week’s parasha:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Inscribe this in a document as a reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven!”  And Moses built an altar and named it Adonai-nissi.  He said, “It means, ‘Hand upon the throne of the LORD!’ The LORD will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages.”  (Exodus 17:14-16 NJPS).

The second will be read in a few weeks for Shabbat Zakhor:

Remember what Amalek 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 Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!  (Deuteronomy 25:17-19 NJPS)

As Rav Goren notes, the passage from Exodus attributes the blotting out of Amalek to Heaven while the second assigns the responsibility to Israel upon entering the land.  How can this tension be sorted out?  Rav Goren brings forward an explanation from the midrashic compilation Pesikta de Rav Kahana:

R. Yehoshua taught in the name of R. Alexandri:  It is written “you shall blot out the memory of Amalek” and “I will blot out the memory of Amalek”.  How can both verses be fulfilled?  [Can Amalek be blotted out more than once?!]  Before he extends his arm [to strike] the throne “you shall blot out Amalek”.  After he extends his arm to strike the throne “I will blot out Amalek”.   Is it possible for a creature of flesh and blood to strike the throne of God?  This rather refers to being ready to put Jerusalem to the sword.

So we learn in this midrash that the second passage, which commands Israel to destroy Amalek, refers to Amalek in his initial state – before he can threaten Jerusalem.  The first passage refers to the situation where Amalek is already encroaching on the “throne of God” i.e. Jerusalem and God has no remedy other than to take command.  Rav Goren points out that this solution is quite puzzling as it is hard to square the scenarios with the actual situations of Israel in the given chapters:  The conflict with Amalek in Exodus is not presented as an encroachment on Jerusalem which can only be averted by divine participation, while the injunction in Deuteronomy to personally take care of Amalek would seem a better fit for this first war.  To be continued.


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