VORTIFY YOURSELF


From
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@widomaker.com

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Parshat Ki Tesse

My wife Kathy has had a wonderful week, she feels much stronger and apparently, the Chemotherapy is working. We thank you all for your prayers and well wishes. May Hashem send Kathy a Refuah Shelayma - a complete recovery, in the very near future and may He bless and inscribe you all in the Book of Life. Shana Tova Tikatayvu V'techetaymu L'Alter Chaim U'lishalom.

Many students of the Torah view its lessons as a means to attain purity of intent and the performance of virtuous deeds. Ultimately, one finds a gentler, more compassionate side while at the same time, functioning from strength. But there are a few episodes in the Torah that seem to contradict these lessons. One example is the Mitzvah (command) to obliterate the recollection of Amalek. In The Book of Shemot (Exodus) 17:8-13 we recall how the Nation of Amalek (a grandson of Esav [Esau]) attacked us after our exodus from Egypt. The very end of our Pasha notes the two sided Mitzvah to erase the memory of Amalek AND never to forget its evil.

Rabbi Ya'acov Haber of Melbourne, Australia gives us an insight into how we can come to grips with such a seemingly cruel Mitzvah.

This Shabbat we read one of the most puzzling pieces in the Torah:

"Remember what Amalek did to you, when you were leaving Egypt. That he [Amalek] happened upon you on the way, and struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at the rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he [Amalek] did not fear Hashem. It shall be that when Hashem, your G-d, gives you rest from all the enemies around you, in the Land that Hashem, your G-d, give you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under heaven - you shall not forget!" (Devarim 25:17-19)

The Torah, generally so full of love and compassion, is here quite merciless and unyielding. It is fortunate that we cannot identify Amalek in this generation for this Mitzvah would be very difficult to carry out.

Let us try to understand the reason for this Mitzvah. First, we should realize Amalek in each generation is cruel and wicked. Haman (of the Purim story), an Amalekite, was not just some comical figure who ended on the gallows because of his greed and vanity (as we might have been taught as children). Haman was the Hitler of his generation.

How did the Amalekites come into being? The Gemara (Sanhedrin 99) explains that in the time of the Patriarchs there was a royal princess named Timna, who wanted to convert to Judaism. She approached each of our patriarchs - Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'acov, and asked each of them to convert her, but they refused.

She then became a concubine of Eliphaz, the son of Esav, saying: "I would rather be a concubine in a family descended from Abraham, than a princess of some other nation." From her the Amalekites were descended! The Gemara goes on to blame the Patriarchs for this situation, for "pushing her away with both hands".

This is an amazing story, giving rise to a number of questions, one of which is: Why was Timna rejected by the Patriarchs? We know that Avraham was one of the most enthusiastic propagators of Judaism of all time. He preached by way of his actions to thousands of people and organized mass conversions (today he would have been quite a controversial rabbi!). So, if he considered Timna unsuitable for conversion, we can be sure it was for a good reason. So then why should we all be punished as a consequence, with a wicked foe like Amalek, for generation after generation until the coming of the Mashiach (Messiah)?

The reason, I think, lies in the Gemara's words, that the Patriarchs pushed Timna away "with both hands". This reflects a complete rejection that many of us display. If we dislike someone who comes to us for help, we tend to reject him or her out of hand. Instead, we should try to help the person, whatever our personal feelings. And if we can not help in the way the person wants, we should try to help in any other way possible. At the very least we should listen, and show some warmth and sympathy. There is never any justification for pushing someone away with both hands. Sometimes you have to push someone away with your left hand, but even then you must pull him towards you with your right, according to the Talmud.

In fact, with conversions, even while initially rejecting a possible convert, one should push him away with the left hand, but draw him close with the right!

In the quotation given at the beginning of this Vort, the passage ("Asher KARKHA Baderekh") was translated as "how he MET YOU on the road." Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 - 1105) renders it; "how he CHILLED YOU on the road."

Perhaps we can see a "Mida Keneged Mida" (measure for measure) operating here: because the Patriarchs treated Timna coldly, the Jews were punished later by having their enthusiasm for G-d CHILLED by the icy coldness of the Amalekite's hatred of the miraculous Exodus of G-d's Chosen People.

We can also link the story of Timna with the Purim story. We may assume that Sarah was involved in the unfortunate incident with Timna, since (according to Rashi) the males were converted by Abraham, and the females by Sarah.

There is a Midrash that says that Esther was a reincarnation of Sarah. Perhaps we can assume that her job was to make a Tikkun (a mending) by overturning the threat to the Jews of that future generation by the Amalekite Haman. Since Sarah was also noted for her many conversions, it is interesting that the Megillah (Scroll) of Esther says: "And many of the peoples of the land became Jews," (Esther 8:17) after the triumph of Queen Esther and Mordecai.

What moral can we draw from all this? The best way we can fight Amalek in our own generation is by fighting within ourselves the negative trait which brought Amalek into the world in the first place. That is, the trait of rejecting someone with both hands, who seeks our support.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig


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