Sfas Emes, (Zechuso
Tagein Aleinu), Parshas Zachor, 5632
Parshas Zachor teaches us the Mitzvah of Mechiyas (wiping out) Amalek.
Before we see what the SE says on this subject, note some potential problems
that arise when we attempt to deal with this Mitzvah. For, in discussing
Mechiyas Amalek, the SE had to address these problems, if only implicitly.
To appreciate the manner with which he handled them, it helps to make them
One basic question is: how do we go about performing this Mitzvah? That
is, what do we have to do to fulfill our obligation of 'wiping out Amalek’
? Another basic question comes quickly to mind. Chazal tell us that
Sancheriv, the Assyrian king, forced the many nations that he conquered to
leave their homelands, and settle elsewhere. . As a result of these mass
population movements, Chazal say, we can no longer identify the nations to
which the Torah refers--e.g, Amalek--with the present-day inhabitants of the
lands that bear those historic names. A naive observer might suppose that
because we can no longer know who is Amalek, this Mitzvah would lapse.
Not so! Sefer HaChinuch tells us that this Mitzvah still applies!
Finally, the Torah tells us to 'remember' to wipe out the memory
(Zecher) of Amalek. How can we wipe out the memory of Amalek, and at the
same time, ‘remember’? On the contrary, one might imagine that the most
effective way to eradicate the Zecher of Amalek would be to forget him!
Let us see the SE's discussion of this Mitzvah, beginning at the top of
the second column of the SE on Parshas Zachor, 5632. The SE tells us:
Ve'Ikar Peirush Zechira Hi Pnimiyus HaChiyus '. That is, the essence of
Zechira is a person's internal vibrancy. Apparently, the concept is hard to
articulate. The SE reaches for the right word in Yiddish (the only time I
have seen him do so): ‘Gedaechnis’. This word translates as 'memory' in a
reflective manner. Thus, a person's Zechira comes across as his/her inner
consciousness and awareness. If Zechira is awareness/consciousness, we can
understand what the Torah means when it tells us to obliterate Amalek.
Indeed, the SE makes this interpretation explicit. How do we wipe out
Amalek? By living our lives in a state of awareness. Thus, in the words of
the SE, wiping out Amalek means: never doing anything 'Derech Ara'i'--i.e.,
in a casual manner! (That is, not having been thought through.) The SE
has given us a radically new interpretation of the Mitzvah of wiping out
Amalek. I suggest some possible corroborative information that the SE may
have had in mind in arriving at this interpretation. The Torah tells us
about the Mitzvah of wiping out Amalek in Devarim (25, 17-19). The Pasuk
there says: ‘VeHaya BeHani’ach HaShem Elocecha Lecha Mikohl Oi'Yevcha
MiSaviv...Timche...'( ArtScroll :' When HaShem will give you rest from all
of your enemies around you, wipe out...' This Pasuk clearly tells us that
Amalek is within us, presumably in reprehensible attitudes.
What might these reprehensible attitudes be? In indicting Amalek, the
Torah says about Amalek 'Asher Korcha ' when you were on the road after you
left Egypt. The key word here is 'Korcha'. The plain/simple meaning of
'Korcha' is 'happened upon you'. However, the word is also rich in
allusions. Thus, Chazal add : he cooled you off ( from the word
'Kor'--cold), lowering the intensity of your previously warm relationship
How did Amalek 'cool us off’’? By inducing us to think that the world is
governed by 'miKReh' (=Chance) rather than by Hashgacha (Divine
Providence). (By contrast, we know that the letters of the word
'Mikreh'--i. e.,MKRH--also form the words 'Rak Mei'HaShem' : Only from
HaShem!) Note further an allusion prompted by the Gematri’a of (i.e., the
numerical value of the letters that form the word) 'Amalek'. This turns
out to be the same as the Gematri'a of the letters that form the word
'Safek' (=Doubt). Thus, we begin to see what Chazal meant when they told
us that Amalek 'cooled off ‘our people; and hence, why the SE may have
arrived at his interpretation of Mechiyas Amalek..
More generally, the SE is telling us that under the heading of
'obliterating Amalek ', the Torah is advising us to avoid a serious
danger to which we can easily fall prey. That danger is set of attitudes
toward life--a mindset that see life as a series of meaningless, random
events. Indeed, this mindset attempts to plant a doubt in our minds as to
whether life has any meaning or purpose at all. And even if this mindset
concedes token adherence to a life of Torah, this mindset tells us to 'be
cool'--not to live that life with warmth, intensity, and devotion!
Note how the SE's interpretation--do not live your life in a casual
manner-- fits in snugly with one of the themes of Purim. This Yomtov is
called 'Purim' because of the ‘Lots’, which were cast explains that 'Lots'
means 'Goral'. This word, in turn, has two meanings. ' Goral' can mean
random events, happenings that occur purely by chance. But sometimes 'Goral’
has a very different meaning: namely, of unavoidable Fate. In other words,
that meaning of 'Goral' sees our lives as governed by strict causality, by
forces that are beyond our control.
Both of these meanings imply mindsets that go strongly against the
Torah's Hashkofa (intellectual perspective). The Torah sees our lives as
governed by Hashgokha Peratis (individualized Divine Providence). Thus the
very name of Purim suggests (in a typically hidden fashion) the mindset
that the SE has told us to eradicate by wiping out Amalek!
Finally, remember that the SE is talking to the Chassidim on Shabbos
Zachor. In the context of Shabbos, the SE points out that Shabbos provides
an excellent opportunity to think through how we are living our lives, and
thus to perform the Mitzvah of 'Zachor'. How so? Because Shabbos is a time
of Menucha (repose). Further, the Pasuk in Devarim--cited above—which
commands us to obliterate Amalek alludes explicitly to the context of
Shabbos. As the Pasuk says: 'VeHaya Behani'ach..' , a clear allusion to our
day of Menucha-- Shabbos. Thus, on Shabbos we can come closer--and can
remain closer-- to HaShem.
On this last point, the SE quotes the Pasuk (Shemos, 16, 29,): that
says: ' Al'Yetzei Ish Mimkomo .' The SE reads the word 'Mekomo' as referring
to HaShem (as in the text of the Hagada: 'Baruch Hamakom, Baruch Hu '). That
is: on Shabbos, stick close to HaShem. Thus, both common sense and the Pasuk
make it clear that Shabbos is a time especially well suited for thinking
through what we are doing (and how we are living our lives), and thereby to
Wipe out Amalek!