Why Amalek?

Throughout our long history, our nation was repeatedly attacked and persecuted by a long list of adversaries and self-declared enemies.

Yet the commandment of remembrance and the obligation to eradicate — and the promise to do so — applies only to the nation of Amalek. Why is Amalek so different from all the others who massacred innocent Jews throughout the generations?

There are four primary reasons why a nation goes to war.

One is in response to a perceived threat to its sovereignty. When a country senses that foreign armies are preparing to trespass on its property — even if they have no intent to actually invade, but merely wish to travel through — it will initiate offensive military action.

A second cause for a country to go to war is to expand its boundaries. Whether it is simply seeking more land or wants to build an empire, the urge to conquer cities has been the driving force behind countless battles.

A third reason is a matter of honor. Whether to counter an insult aimed at the monarch or leadership, or against the people, the aggrieved party all too often responds by reaching for weapons.

A fourth reason is a desire to cast fear and dread into the hearts of enemies. A successful attack against another nation helps create an aura of invincibility, and dissuades neighboring countries from even contemplating challenging the aggressor.

Yet in the case of Amalek, none of the above applied.

When Amalek ruthlessly decided to attack Bnei Yisrael, they were traveling in the desert. They weren’t near the borders of Amalek, and did not indicate in any way that they were about to trespass on Amalekite property.

Out in the midbar, Bnei Yisrael had neither cities nor towns, nor any other types of properties to be conquered. Defeating Bnei Yisrael would not possibly expand the Amalekite kingdom or even gain it any new grazing grounds.

Nor, for that matter, did the attack come in response to an insult — imagined or otherwise. In fact, it was precisely the opposite; it was the Amalekites who taunted Bnei Yisrael with the most offensive insults.

A victory over Bnei Yisrael wouldn’t have helped ensure an Amalekite status of impregnability, either.

Chazal tell us of the time Alexander of Macedonia decided to wage war on a nation of women. The women stressed to the powerful king that he would gain nothing from such a battle. “If you defeat us,” they argued, “it won’t bring you any honor.” After all, it is no great feat to win against a people unaccustomed and inexperienced in the art of warfare.

Similarly, Bnei Yisrael, who for so long had served as slaves in Egypt, had no military prowess to speak of. Weakened and drained by nearly a century of forced labor and extreme persecution, they had no background or knowledge in fighting wars, and a victory over Bnei Yisrael certainly wouldn’t have established the Amalekites as a force to be reckoned with.

So why, then, did Amalek attack?

The passuk tells us “asher korcha baderech… — He cooled you off…” Rashi, quoting the Midrash, gives a parable of a bathtub of boiling water into which no living creature could enter. Along came an irresponsible man and leaped into it. Although he scalded himself in the process, he managed to make others think that it was cooler than it really was. After the miracles in Egypt and at the Yam Suf, Bnei Yisrael were considered “boiling hot,” and the other nations were afraid to fight them. Then Amalek came forward and started, showing the way to others.

The nations feared attacking Bnei Yisrael only because of the miracles Hashem had wrought on their behalf. Therefore, the intention of Amalek was to attack the honor of Hashem, to eliminate the recognition of the infinite power of Hashem that was recognized by the nations.

Amalek thus set itself in a totally different category than all the other nations who sought to persecute Am Yisrael over all the generations. (Adapted from Ben Ish Chayil)

Sefarim teach us that it wasn’t only the fear other countries had towards initiating conflict with the nation of Hashem that Amalek sought to dispel, but it was the very emunah that Bnei Yisrael have in Hashem that they were so determined to weaken.

Our response, therefore — our effort to eradicate the spiritual powers of Amalek — must be based on strengthening and reaffirming our emunah and bitachon.