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by Jacob Solomon


When Pharaoh sent out the people, G-d did not lead them by the way of the Philistines, because it was near, because G-d said, "Less they change their minds and return to Egypt". G-d turned the people towards the desert... (13:17-18)

Many explanations are given as to why the Israelites were taken towards the Promised Land through the roundabout route. The simplest explanation - given by Rashi - is that once the going got difficult, they should not have had a geographically easy way back to Egypt. Moreover, as R. Bachya points out, the decision to lead them through the desert was an essential factor in the formation of the Israelites into a Torah Nation. For G-d directed that they should be in circumstances where they would have to be reminded of His Presence in seeing constant miracles in order to survive.

The difficulty with the simple explanation is translating - the word ki - according to Rashi appears to mean 'even though' in order to fit into the sentence above.

The Midrash (Tanhuma - Beshalach 1; Psikta De Rav Cahana 11:9) brings a different explanation of ki karov hu. The Midrash stresses the bond between the Israelites and the Philistines that dated from Abraham. Abraham swore to Abimelech, the King of the Philistines, that he would be loyal to his '... grandson and great-grandson: as the kindness that I have done to you, you shall do to me, and also to the land in which you lived.' Abraham said, 'I swear'. (Gen. 21:23-4) According to Rashi at least, this oath was still in effect even at the time of the Judges, (see his comment on Judges 1:21. where he points out that the oath was only allowed to lapse in the time of King David).

That 600,000 Israelites on the way to conquer the Land of Canaan should pass through the kingdom of the Philistines, would indeed be a breach of 'showing kindness' to that land. This is implied in the blessings promised by G-d for obeying the Mitzvot: the sword shall not pass through your land (Lev. 26:6). Rashi there comments that the sword includes the nuisance and unpleasantness caused by foreign armies using the land as a route to battle with other countries - something that the Israelites would indeed have been doing had they traveled through the Philistines' territory.

According to this explanation, therefore, the word ki which occurs twice in the above could be translated as 'because' in both cases. Ki karov hu - means that it was near in point of time to the oath of the Patriarch, Abraham. Indeed, were they to have broken the oath, G-d could have been on the side of the Philistines and the Israelites would have had ample cause to have wanted to return to Egypt.

(The word karov can mean near in time, as Rashi makes clear in his comment to Gen. 19:20).

For I will surely blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens (17:14).

We read in the Passover Hagada that in every generation they rise against us to destroy us, but the Holy One... saves us from their hands. Of all our enemies why is the nation of Amalek - who himself was the grandson of Esau - singled out as the worst of all our attackers? Indeed as the Midrash Tanhuma derives (Ki Tei-tzei 11, in reference to Ex. 17:16), the Throne of G-d is not complete until Amalek is destroyed. In addition, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek is seen as a Mitzva (Deut. 25:19) - yet in the same sentence it says you must not forget.

One clue to help us understand the Torah's giving a unique distinction to Amalek lies in the way the Torah introduced Amalek: Amalek came - he fought with Israel in Refidim (17:8). Unlike virtually all the other oppressors of the Israelites the attack had no reason - not stated, not implied. Amalek just came and fought. In contrast to Pharaoh and later the Canaanites, the Amalekites had nothing to lose in the Israelites leaving Egypt, travelling through the desert and entering the Promised Land. They had already received their territory - I (G-d) gave Mount Seir to Esau as an inheritance (Josh. 24:4). It seems that there was only one reason - hatred for the Israelites because they existed. In that generation - long after Esau was dead, it was groundless hatred, and nothing else.

There are two types of hatred. The first type is for specific reasons - real or imagined. The Egyptians could hardly have been pleased in losing their slaves. The Canaanites could have hardly have been pleased in being occupied by what in their eyes was a foreign power - however justified in the eyes of G-d. And later on in Jewish history it would be fair to say that in most cases when there were anti-Jewish decrees, the Gentiles themselves genuinely, if erroneously, believed that the Jews conducted themselves in such a way as to be a threat to interests of other peoples and/or classes. This does not justify hatred - but at least it does not compare with the second type - sinat chinam - the malevolence of Amalek.

The first type of antipathy is therefore regrettable, but comparatively understandable. The second type - groundless hatred - is of such a nature that there is no room for it in the Creation. Therefore the Torah, in the broader sense, declares that we are commanded to fight sinat chinam - the groundless hatred exemplified by the conduct of the Amalekites.


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