Remember what Amalek did to you… that he met you on the way and he struck those of you who were lagging behind… when you were faint and exhausted… (Devarim 25:17–18).
Who are Amalek? What do they represent? How can we perform this mitzvah of remembrance in our generation?
Our Sages teach that when the Jews left Egypt they were viewed by the nations of the world as “untouchables.” No one would have dared to confront them. The ten plagues, the destruction of the Egyptians in their country as well as at the Red Sea, were well known and struck fear in the hearts of the nations of the world. No one would have even thought to attempt to oppose Bnei Yisrael — until Amalek attacked. Amalek, like every other nation, knew this was a suicide mission, yet they still attacked, clearing the road for others to follow. After Amalek’s attack, starting up with Bnei Yisrael became something in the realm of the possible. True, Amalek was defeated, but perhaps victory could be achieved with a larger and better equipped army? Amalek had taken the first step, leaving the door open for others.
The Midrash compares this act of Amalek to someone who jumps into a hot, scalding bath and gets burned. Others see him and realize that it’s not a good idea to copy him, but they still see that it can be done if necessary. The one who jumped in “cooled off” the water for everybody else. So, too, Amalek had the nerve to do the unthinkable and they “cooled off” Bnei Yisrael in the eyes of the nations of the world.
Not only did Amalek embolden the peoples of that generation, but Amalek also personifies chutzpah sprinkled in all subsequent generations. They had the audacity to do that which shouldn’t be done and to ignore those who shouldn’t be ignored. Currently, this trait is especially prevalent. Chazal say that in the era preceding the coming of Moshiach, this trait of Amalek will come to the surface and chutzpah will increase in the world.
In creation, things have a burst of strength before expiration. This is true in animals and humans, in the yetzer hara and Amalek as well. We’re in the period before Moshiach, and Amalek and the yetzer hara are about to be destroyed. Therefore, whatever Amalek exemplifies gains strength and surfaces.
There was a time actions of people were dictated by decency. There was a feeling of shame to do something wrong or immoral. Some things just weren’t done!
Not so long ago, things changed. Children threw off the yoke of their parents’ authority and youngsters ridiculed their elders and everything they taught and stood for. Recently, it’s only gotten worse! In the name of “freedom,” moral and decent behavior is ignored and rules are defied. People are admired for pushing causes for which they would have been ostracized only a short time ago. Crime is up, scandal is rampant, and a family untouched by divorce and unfaithfulness is basically a novelty. Why? Because the days of Amalek are coming to an end and their traits are becoming predominant in society, totally influencing every aspect of life. Chutzpah, doing things which shouldn’t be done, has become normal and praiseworthy.
Unfortunately, we, too, have been affected. By mixing with society and observing its behavior, we have been “cooled.” However, we have the mitzvah of erasing the name of Amalek. We are commanded to wipe it out from within us and destroy any trace of Amalek’s influence. Torah study — especially mussar — and mitzvah performance yield spiritual purity and humility. We are the antithesis of the brazen nation of Amalek. When we live as we should, we can erase their memory from Hashem’s Creation.