SALT - Thursday, 11 Adar 5777 - March 9, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Rashi, commenting to the final verse of Parashat Beshalach, writes, “The Almighty swore that His Name is not complete and His throne is not complete until the name of Amalek is entirely eradicated.”  The source of Rashi’s remark is the Midrash Tanchuma (Parashat Ki-Teitzei, 11), which formulates this concept a bit differently, writing that God’s Name and throne are incomplete until “zar’o shel Amalek” – Amalek’s offspring – is entirely eradicated.  The phrase “zar’o shel Amalek” also appears earlier in this passage in the Midrash Tanchuma, where it lists the obligation “to annihilate the offspring of Amalek” among the three mitzvot cast upon Am Yisrael when they entered the Land of Israel.  This formulation is also found in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 20b) and in the Rambam’s Hilkhot Melakhim (1:1).

            Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro of Piaseczno, in his Eish Kodesh (p. 169), suggests that the phrase “zar’o shel Amalek” refers to more than the biological heirs of the Biblical nation of Amalek.  He writes that this phrase refers to the practical effects of “Amalek,” of the pressure and oppression we have endured under foreign rule.  “Amalek,” in its various manifestations, has often caused us to lower our religious standards and placed us in situations where we had no choice but to suspend Torah laws.  Our nation has frequently been forced, under duress, to make significant compromises in Torah standards, compromises which some may consider acceptable even after the pressure subsides.  The Rebbe of Piaseczno warned that the reign of Amalek produces “offspring,” spiritual consequences, in the form of a watering down of Torah life, and the dilution of our religious ambitions.  We are commanded to eradicate this “offspring,” all vestiges of laxity and indifference that could result from the pressure applied by our adversaries.

            The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (88a) tells that following the Purim miracle, the Jews of the time formally reaffirmed their acceptance of the Torah which they had declared at Sinai (“Hadar kibluha bi-ymei Achashveirosh”).  Significantly, this reaffirmation was made in circumstances that could hardly be more different from those that Benei Yisrael experienced at Sinai, when the Torah was first given.  At Sinai, they lived a supernatural existence, beholding God’s miracles each day, and living under the guidance and leadership of Moshe, the greatest prophet who ever lived.  In the days of Mordekhai and Ester, the Jews announced their acceptance of the Torah while living and integrating in the decadent Persian society.  Rather than eating the heavenly manna with Moshe Rabbenu, they ate and drank in large feasts with their Persian neighbors.  Their reaffirmation of kabbalat ha-Torah (acceptance of the Torah) under those circumstances expressed their commitment to strive, to whatever extent possible, for the standards of Sinai even while living in Persia.  They proclaimed that although they are submerged in a foreign culture, and obviously could not rise to the level of their ancestors who beheld the Revelation at Sinai, they would make an effort to reinvigorate their religious lives and aspire to more.  Rather than complacently accept the low standards and watered-down Jewish lives to which they had grown accustomed in exile, they would now reach for the lofty standards of Sinai, and work to draw closer to the ideal standards of Torah observance.

            One of the lessons of Purim is to eradicate the “offspring” of Amalek, of the tendency to lower standards and to accept unnecessary and unjustified compromises in our avodat Hashem.  While we cannot realistically expect to live on the level of Sinai, we must nevertheless not allow the realities of “Amalek,” of undesirable circumstances, to dilute our ambition and discourage us from rigorously pursuing higher standards of study and observance.