The Real Amalek


The Rebbe Reb Bunim of Peshischa Said: In the period when there was a Jewish king and Jewish warriors, the simple interpretation of the wars we read about in the Torah was the physical war, while the esoteric meaning was that it is referring to the inner wars and struggles man has to fight. Nowadays, with no Jewish army, and no physical wars to speak of, the simple reading is each person’s inner struggle with himself, while the material war is relegated to a historical anecdote, metaphor for the inner struggle.

We can trace this transformation of meaning back to Chazal themselves. The original intent of the Mitzvah to remember what Amalek did and eradicate them was referring to a certain physical nation, enemies of the ancient Jews, who the Jews waged a physical war on. By the time of Chazal, the original Amalekite nation had already disappeared, and with them the animosity between them and us, and thus the Mitzvah was left with no real meaning.

Chazal then connected the Mitzvah to the Purim story.  The Megillah describes Haman as an Agagi, which was explained to mean a descendant of Agag, the Amalekite king of Amalek of King Shaul’s time. Thus the link was made between the contemporary Haman, and the Celabration inspired by the story of victory over him, to the old Amalek story and mitzvah. Chazal transformed the Mitzvah to remember Amalek into a mitzvah to read the Parsha on the Shabbos before Purim and to read the Megillah on Purim, so that by these readings and celebrations we perform the mitzvah to remember and annihilate Amalek.  (See  Megilla 7a , Daat Mikra Esther 3, 1)

Consequently, the question we ask ourselves about Zachor and Purim is not who was against who, or what happened in ancient Persia or Israel, let historians deal with that. The living Torah we have demands the question be what the contemporary Amalek is in our lives and time,  Who or what is it that we are against, what are the pitfalls we need to remember to avoid and what evils do we need to eradicate.

This question has no right answer. Each person must face his own personal Amalek. As the Passuk says, in the singular: Remember what Amalek did to you.  Don’t obsess over what he did once upon a time, or to other people. Remember what he did to you. Fight your own demons, and overcome them. Don’t waste your time fighting other people’s demons. Let everyone dress up in his own costume, Celebrate Purim on their own day, in their particular fashion, and depict Haman and Amalek in his own way. As the Megillah says, each family for its family, each country for its country, each city for its city. Just as our forefathers applied the ancient Amalek story to their modern day Haman, we apply the ancient Haman story to our modern day struggles, Bayamim hahem Bazman Haze.

This is the power of Purim that lasts forever. Anything based on the past will inevitably degrade in relevance as time passes and situations change. On Purim we celebrate the present, our own lives, our own struggles, our own victories. And the present – it is always the present. It never goes away. So too Purim will never go away.

Moshe’s War with Amalek