Many nations have attacked and oppressed Am Yisrael throughout its history. Yet, for some reason, Amalek is singled out as Israel's 'arch enemy.' What was so terrible about Amalek's attack that requires a battle for all generations?
By carefully examining the Torah's description of this event, Part II of this week's shiur uncovers some amazing details that will enhance our understanding of "Milchemet Amalek."
Who's in Rfidim?
"And Amalek came, and attacked Israel at Rfidim..." (Shmot 17:8)When we read these psukim, we generally assume that all of Bnei Yisrael are encamped in Rfidim when Amalek attacked. However, a careful reading of the previous 'parsha' - the story of Massa U'Mriva - suggests quite the opposite! When Amalek attacks, Bnei Yisrael appear to be 'on the road' - on their way from Rfidim to Har Sinai.
To prove this, we must review the story of Massa U'Mriva, which begins with Bnei Yisrael's arrival at Rfidim:
"And Bnei Yisrael traveled from Midbar Sin ... and encamped in Rfidim, and there was no water for the people to drink ... and they quarreled with Moshe..." (17:1-3)We all know how the story continues. God instructs Moshe to take his staff and strike the rock. Water then gushes forth from the rock and Bnei Yisrael quench their thirst - end of story.
Not so fast... As we saw in Part I, there is one small detail in this story that is often overlooked. The rock that Moshe hits is not in Rfidim - it is located at Har Sinai!
"God said to Moshe, pass before the people, take with you some of the elders, and take the staff ... I will be standing before you at the rock at Chorev; strike the rock [there] and water will issue from it..." (17:5-6)In other words, God tells Moshe to go to Chorev (= Har Sinai - see 3:1,12), taking along a select group of national leaders to witness this miracle at the rock.
Although the Torah informs us that Moshe performed this miracle in the presence of these elders (17:6), we find no details of precisely how Bnei Yisrael drank this water.
Considering that the rock is at Chorev and the people are at Rfidim, it is unlikely that the elders carried back with them a sufficient supply of water to provide for the entire camp. More likely, the running water of Har Chorev created a small river bed which meandered its way to Rfidim. That water was enough for the people to have something to drink. But think about it - if you had spent several days suffering from life-threatening thirst in a hot desert with no water available to you or your family, and then you saw a new river bed forming, you (and everyone else in your camp) would follow that river right to its source!
Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Bnei Yisrael, upon seeing this water, immediately decided to move their camp from Rfidim directly to Har Sinai. One could also assume that this journey was not very organized. The stronger people most probably ran ahead to secure for themselves a supply of fresh water and set up the new camp site, while those who were 'weak and tired' lingered behind.
It is precisely at this time that Amalek attacks: "Amalek came, and attacked Israel at Rfidim..." (17:8). But who is in Rfidim? Only a remnant of the camp - the weak and the tired.
Agreed, our interpretation thus far has been based on conjecture and 'reading between the lines.' However, in the parallel account of this story in Sefer Dvarim, we find precisely these missing details:
"Remember what Amalek did to you ba'derech (on your journey) when you left Egypt - for he surprised you ba'derech [i.e. while you were traveling] and cut down all the stragglers in your rear, while you were famished and weary..." (25:17-18)Amalek capitalizes on Bnei Yisrael's disadvantage. [They break the laws of the 'Geneva Convention.'] Even in war there are accepted norms of conduct; men fight men, armies engage armies. Amalek's attack is outright unethical, even by wartime standards.
Further support of this interpretation may be drawn from the conclusion of the pasuk cited earlier from Sefer Dvarim:
"...v'lo ya'ray Elokim - and he (Amalek) did not fear God." (Dvarim 25:18)This phrase - ya'ray Elokim - in the context of unethical (or immoral) behavior is found numerous times in Chumash. For example, Avraham offers Avimelech the following explanation for lying about his wife:
"And Avraham explained (to Avimelech), for I said (to myself) there is no yirat Elokim in this place, and therefore they will kill me (to take my wife)..." (Breishit 20:11)In this context, a lack of yirat Elokim describes one who would kill a visitor in order to take his wife. [Quite unethical according to even the lowest moral standards.]
Similarly, Yosef bases his decision to release his imprisoned brothers on his sense of yirat Elokim - ethical behavior:
"... Et ha'Elokim ani ya'ray ... [therefore] only one of you must remain in jail and the rest of you can bring food to your family and bring back your youngest brother [to prove that you are telling the truth]..." (See Breishit 42:15-18)The Counterattack
"Go fight Amalek ... machar - tomorrow - I (Moshe) will be standing at the top of the hill with the mateh Elokim..." (17:9; see Ibn Ezra - "givah" = Har Sinai!)Should not Yehoshua engage Amalek immediately? Why wait for another day of hostilities to pass before mobilizing the nation's defense? According to our explanation, however, the leaders (Moshe and the elders) and most of the men are already at Har Sinai. It will therefore take a full day for Yehoshua to organize the troops and march them back towards Rfidim.
Spoiling Har Sinai
Up until this point we have discussed the particularly unethical nature of Amalek's attack. Yet, the eternal mitzvah to 'erase the memory of Amalek' for all generations suggests a spiritual theme, as well.
Recall from Part I that the entire journey from Egypt to Har Sinai served as a 'training mission' of sorts to spiritually prepare Bnei Yisrael for Matan Torah. As we explained above, in their first encounter Bnei Yisrael perceive Har Sinai as a spring flowing with water, the source of their salvation from the threat of thirst. The 'stage has been set' for Matan Torah.
Amalek's attack almost 'spoils' this encounter. [See Shir Ha'shirim 1:4.] In effect, Amalek attempts to prevent Am Yisrael from achieving their Divine destiny. The nature of this struggle remains throughout our history. Even once Am Yisrael conquers its internal enemy and is finally prepared to follow God, external, human forces of evil, unwilling to allow God's message to be heard, will always make one last attack.
Am Yisrael must remain prepared to fight this battle against Amalek for all generations:
"Ki yad al kes Kah, milchama l'Hashem b'Amalek, midor dor." (17:16)