Category Archives: Purim

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

 In honor of Purim, notes from מלחמת עמלק ומלכות ישראל by Rav Shlomo Goren zt”l

“You Shall Blot Out” – The Kingship of Israel, “I Will Blot Out” – The Messianic Age

Continued from here.

Rav Goren brings a different approach from Midrash Ha-Hefetz, which is a fifteenth century commentary on the Torah and Haftarot by R. Zechariah ben Shlomo Ha-Rofe.  According to Midrash Ha-Hefetz, as long as Israel has the ability to destroy Amalek, the obligation is upon her as stated in the book of Deuteronomy.  But if Israel loses the capacity, then God will carry out the destruction, as indicated in the Exodus passage.

There is an undeniable logic to the point of view of the midrash, Rav Goren notes, in that the passage in Exodus and its exclamation כי יד על כס י”ה (“Hand upon the throne!”) has messianic overtones. In Midrash Pesikta Rabbati (Siman 9) there is:

Levi said in the name of R. Hamma son of R. Hanina:  As long as the seed of Amalek is extant, the Holy Name is not complete and the throne is not complete; when the seed of Amalek is uprooted, then the throne is complete and the Holy Name is complete.

This places the verse in the context of the messianic era and Rashi glosses it similarly in his commentary on the Torah.  So we have an explanation which holds  that the passage in Exodus (“I will blot out”) refers to the ultimate heavenly destruction of Amalek – which cannot be in the hands of creatures of flesh and blood – but beforehand the obligation (“You shall blot out”) is on Israel to destroy Amalek.

While acknowledging the strength of this solution, Rav Goren concludes that we nevertheless cannot accept it:

“It is very difficult to assume that the promise in Exodus [“I will blot out”] was given with the understanding that Israel wouldn’t or couldn’t fulfill the mitzvah on her own.  Why would God command Moshe:  “Inscribe this in a document as a reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua”?  As Rashi notes on that verse:  “[Joshua] was the one who would bring Israel into the Land, who would command Israel to deal out recompense.”  The point is that Joshua will command thus to Israel at the time they enter the Land which means that the verse is not about the messianic age.  Moreover, it would be appropriate for the Torah to first command Israel on her obligation, and only after she was shown unable to do it would the promise “I will blot out” be necessary for some future time, rather than starting at once with the assumption that it is impossible as if Israel has no ability.”

To be continued.

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.