Thursday, January 29, 2015


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


Reb Dovid Blinder was a noted scholar in Russia in the late 1800s.[1] He taught children Torah when the egregious Cantonist decrees were in place[2]. To hide from the soldiers, Reb Dovid would learn with his students in underground cellars. One day, while studying with a student, a soldier standing near the house heard his voice. The soldier immediately burst into the cellar and rushed at the child. But before the soldier was able to apprehend him, Reb Dovid pushed the soldier to the floor, and rescued the child from conscription.
          As can be imagined, Reb Dovid’s actions were viewed as treasonous, and it took a tremendous amount of political effort and ‘string pulling’ to protect him form being imprisoned.
The next time the Bais HaLevi[3] met Reb Dovid, he asked him how he had the courage to assault a soldier. Reb Dovid sheepishly replied, “The truth is that I had no idea that he was a soldier. All I knew was that I was trying to teach my student Torah and someone barged in and impeded my lesson. So, without thinking more about it, I shoved him.”

          After the splitting of the Sea, “The nations heard... fright gripped them”[4]. Every nation was overwhelmed by the Ten Plagues and the splitting of the Sea. At that point, no one would have the audacity to attack the Jews, save one nation. Defying logic Amalek, the nemesis of Klal Yisroel, attacked.
          Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l explains that this strident unprovoked attack was a continuation of the epic battle that began centuries earlier. Prior to Yaakov’s confrontation with Eisav he was challenged by Eisav’s Angel. That battle was essentially a struggle for supremacy and superiority as to whose philosophical outlook would reign supreme. Was Yaakov and his devotion to holiness and divinity the true dominator of the world or was it Eisav and life by the sword? Although Yaakov triumphed over Eisav’s Angel he had not vanquished him. Now, centuries later, when Yaakov’s descendants were redeemed from the Egyptian exile, they were immediately greeted by Eisav’s grandson, Amalek. 
          The struggle between Yaakov and Eisav, which re-manifested itself in the struggle between Klal Yisroel and Amalek, is the ongoing struggle between holiness and impurity.
Rabbi Hirsch asserts that even Pharaoh, who sanctioned ruthless slavery, could be a promoter of freedom if it served his interests. Amalek however, will never allow his sword to rest as long as Klal Yisroel exists. The mere existence of Klal Yisroel is an anathema to Amalek.
          “In Israel he sees the object of moral hate and complete disdain, where one dares to think the sword is dispensable, where one dares to trust in spiritual-moral powers, powers of which the sword has no idea, and which are beyond its reach. In the representative of the idea of the greatness which Man can attain by peace, Amalek sees the utter scorn of all his principles, sees in it his own real enemy, and senses somehow his own ultimate collapse… Attacked by Amalek, Israel had to wage war, but it is not Israel’s sword but Moshes’ staff that conquers Amalek; and it is not any magical power in the staff but the faith which is expressed and brought to the minds of the people by the uplifted hand, the giving oneself up with complete confidence to G-d that achieved the victory.”                   
          Rabbi Hirsch continues, “It is not Amalek who is so pernicious for the moral future of mankind but zecher Amalek, the glorifying of the memory of Amalek which is the danger.“
He explains that as long as mankind glorifies those who accomplish their objectives through violence and force Amalek will endure. Only when the divine laws become the sole criterion for the worth of man and society will Amalek finally be vanquished. Only when there is no longer any trace of his nefarious agenda, i.e. his memory is blotted out, that Amalek himself will cease to exist.
          Klal Yisroel is involved in a perpetual war with Amalek. Amalek’s greatness lies in ‘destruction’. This is in stark contrast with the Jewish nation whose mission is ‘building’, the peaceful human development of everything earthly up to G-d.
One of the great lessons of the commandment that we blot out the memory of Amalek while at the same time remembering the havoc that he wrought[5] is to realize that “building” will at times require battle. Our mission to be the nation of builders entails that we be prepared for combat to defend our cause. The war maybe fought with an unconventional arsenal of weapons, but it is a war nonetheless.

          On September 30, 1938 English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact with Adolph Hitler. The pact, part of the Allies’ efforts at appeasement, granted Hitler the Sudetenland. When he returned to England, Chamberlain addressed throngs of cheering crowds. He concluded his address with haunting words: “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time… Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”[6]
His words were immediately challenged by his foremost critic, Winston Churchill, who declared: “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor; you will have war!”
          The Amalek of our time is as virulent and enmity-filled as ever, but there are many who refuse to believe it. We simply have a hard time believing the extent of the evilness of Amalek. How much blood has been spilled trying to pacify and appease Amalekites who never had or have any intentions of making peace?
          Judaism is not a “religion of love”[7]; Judaism is a religion of G-d and fulfillment of the Divine Will. The wisest of men stated, “There is a time to love and a time to hate[8]”. Our mission is to spread holiness and to wage war against those who seek to destroy it.

          In the late 1960s during the era of hippies, flower children, and free love, Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l told a self-proclaimed ‘lover of humanity’ that he was paying lip service to an ideal that he didn’t really believe in.  He continued with a powerful thought: “You say that you are in love with everything. But if nothing makes you angry, then you don’t really love. If you don’t hate you can’t love! Ohavei Hashem sinu ra- Those who love G-d abhor evil!”
          When someone loves someone passionately he wants to honor and glorify that person as much as possible. If someone dedicates himself to defaming the person he loves, he will inevitably feel disdain for that person. If one does not feel such strong emotions his love isn’t genuine.

          Our battle against Amalek has not yet reached its resolution. It serves as a reminder of the capability of man to descend into a state of human beastliness. We maintain our enmity for Amalek, not merely for the sake of our own welfare, but because Amalek has dedicated itself to the desecration of all that is holy and Divine. Amalek may wear a different mask, but his mission has not changed at all.
Our sages warn that one who has misappropriated mercy for an evil person will end up suffering and regretting it.[9] This was demonstrated by the debacle of King Shaul. Shaul had been instructed by the prophet Shmuel to destroy all of Amalek, including all women, children, and animals. Out of compassion Shaul spared the sheep. Shaul did not realize that the Amalekite King, Agag, had utilized witchcraft to transform himself into a sheep and thus escape the sword. From Agag descended Haman, the villain of the Purim story.    
A number of years ago I had the opportunity to accompany a friend who was driving Rabbi Aharon Schechter shlita[10] to a wedding. It was shortly after Yasir Arafat had died. I asked the Rosh Yeshiva how a Torah Jew should view Arafat’s death. Rabbi Schechter replied succinctly by quoting the verse: “ובאבד רשעים רנה – And when the wicked are destroyed (there is) joy.”[11]

          The Mishna[12] relates that Tu B’shvat[13] is the ‘New Year for Trees’. Every tree’s production during the coming year is decided on that day.
In order to produce growth and vegetation, any farmer knows that it is not sufficient for him to put seeds in the ground and water it. He must also pull up the weeds around his vegetation and prune the unnecessary branches on his fruit-bearing trees.
          The physical world is a metaphor for the spiritual world. As the Chosen Nation it is not enough for us to engage in altruistic acts of kindness and holiness. We also have an obligation to weed out the evils of this world and chop away at those who seek to undermine our message.    
          Tu B’shvat is not only a holiday in and of itself, but it also ushers in a joyous period of celebration. Tu B’shavt is thirty days prior to Purim[14] and Purim is thirty days prior to Pesach, which begins the count toward our annual (re)acceptance of the Torah on Shavuos.[15] The winter may still be casting its bitter cold and dark days, but within the trees the sap is beginning its ascent in its preparation for the rebirth of spring.
          In a spiritual sense as well, we recommit ourselves to our unyielding love for G-d and His Service and our passionate enmity for those who have committed themselves to its opposition.
The destruction and undermining of evil is a cause for celebration and song. The Shabbos when we read about the destruction of the Egyptians and the weakening of Amalek becomes “Shabbos Shirah”, a Shabbos of song!     

“Those who love G-d abhor evil”
       “If you don’t hate you can’t love”

[1] He was called ‘Blinder’ (blind man) because he never lifted his head to look outside his immediate area. Among his other achievements, he had the distinction of teaching Rabbi Chaim Brisker in his youth.
[3] Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik zt’l (1820-1892), the saintly Rabbi of the town of Brisk and the father of Rabbi Chaim Brisker.
[4] Shemos 15:14
[5] See Devarim (25:17) “Remember what Amalek did to you on the road when you left Egypt.”
[6] Winston Churchill commented that “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile - hoping it will eat him last”.
[7] As the Ramban mentioned in his famous debate against the renegade Jew, Pablo Christiani in 1267 in front of Spanish King James I of Aragon, “How much blood has been shed and how much have we suffered at the behest of the so-called “religion of love”?”
[8] Koheles 3:8
[9] וַיַּחְמֹל שָאוּל וְהָעָם עַל אֲגָג [שמואל א' טו:ט]. אמר רבי שמעון בן לוי: כל שהוא אכזר על רחמנין סוף שהוא נעשה רחמן על אכזרים. כל שהוא רחמן על אכזרים סופו ליפול בחרב
מדרש שמואל --
[10] Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn NY, and one of our America’s Torah leaders
[11] Mishlei 11:10
[12] Rosh Hashana 1:1
[13] [The Hebrew letters טו (Tu) have the numerical value of fifteen. Tu B’shvat is the celebration that occurs on the fifteenth day of Shevat. Many refer to the day as Chamisha Asar B’Shvat.
[14] except in a Jewish leap year
[15] There are opinions that directly connect the joy of Tu B’shavt with the imminent days of joy.


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