Zachor demands that we remain permanently focused on our obligation to wipe out our historical nemesis who attacked us even at our moment of utmost strength and glory.
He cooled you off and made you [appear] tepid, after you were boiling hot. For the nations were afraid to fight with you, but [Amalek] came forward and started and showed the way to others. This can be compared to a bathtub of boiling water into which no living creature could descend. Along came an irresponsible man and jumped headfirst into it. Although he scalded himself, he [succeeded to] make other [nations] think it was cooler [than it really was]. (Rashi to Devarim 25:18, quoting Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Seitzei 9)
What gave Amalek the temerity to attack at the very hour the entire world recognized Hashem’s might and splendor? And what motivated this extreme degree of self-sacrifice — going into battle knowing full well it could very well be their last?
In its essence, Amalek sought to cultivate doubt — not doubt in Hashem’s existence but rather as a means of challenging our uniqueness, our special relationship with Him. Amalek cynically questioned whether it is possible for imperfect humans to foster an enduring, sacred bond with the Divine, and seized on any breakdowns in our faith —such as when Bnei Yisrael clamored for water at Masah U’merivah (Shemos 17:7–8) — to reinforce our spiritual frailty.
How was it possible that the Jewish people, who had just experienced a series of the most unbelievable miracles in history, could challenge Hashem’s ability to provide even the most basic elements to sustain life? What happened to their faith? And why did their lapse in belief result specifically in an attack by Amalek?
The answer is that true, sustainable faith does not emerge from open miracles. In fact, the exact opposite is true (See Rambam, Yesodei HaTorah 8:2). The constant use of miracles implies that the necessary conditions for a natural, enduring Divine presence are absent, that Hashem must assert Himself in this world in order to be recognized. In contrast, real, genuine belief emerges from a deep sense of care for a personal relationship with Hashem, a desire to connect with Him out of pure love, not due to His overwhelming power or open Presence.
Amalek, the quintessential cynic, understood this well, and waited for the opportunity to expose any weaknesses in the Jews’ spiritual connection. Thus, when some Jews experienced a lapse in their faith, Amalek was more than ready to attack, and was even willing to suffer serious harm in order to achieve its goal.
This same pattern repeated itself many centuries later, when Haman the Amalekite presented his “Final Solution” to Achashverosh. Haman did not question Hashem’s existence, but rather His willingness to intervene on behalf of a nation that “rebelled against its G-d and still have not changed their wicked ways” (Esther Rabbah 7:13).
Haman sensed a weakness in the bond between Hashem and His chosen nation when he observed its frivolous conduct at the royal feast in Shushan, and seized on the opportunity to permanently break that sacred link. Only through the efforts of Mordechai and Esther to focus their nation on the importance of reconnecting with its Maker were the Jews able to overcome the terrible decree of annihilation and emerge victorious over their arch-rival.
Perhaps we can learn a lesson about connection from korbanos, a theme that occupies the entirety of the first two parshiyos of Sefer Vayikra. On the one hand, we know that korbanos occupy a central part of our national avodah; we daven daily for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash and the restoration of korbanos as the primary medium for our spiritual connection. Even today, two millennia since the last korban was offered, we continue to actively discuss and learn about them, as the basis for our physical and spiritual preservation.
Said Avraham before the Holy One, blessed be He: “Master of the Universe, perhaps, G-d forbid, Israel will sin before You and You will do to them as You did to the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Division?” He answered: “Not so.” He then said before Him: “Master of the Universe, by what shall I know this?” He said: “Take me a heifer of three years old, etc.” He then said before Him: Master of the Universe, this is very well for the time when the Beis Hamikdash will be standing, but in the time when there will be no Beis Hamikdash, what will happen to them?” He replied to him: “I have already fixed for them the order of the sacrifices. Whenever they will read the section dealing with them, I will consider it as if they were bringing me an offering, and forgive all their sins.” (Megillah 31b)
In order to feel connected, it is necessary to do something to maintain that connection. Though we have not been able to offer korbanos for many centuries, the fact that we recite them daily allows us reap the spiritual benefits that they offer. Similarly, we were able to thwart the threat of Amalek through a strengthened commitment to our spiritual tasks. It was insufficient for us to know that Hashem was our G-d. Our actions had to reflect that awareness.
Relationships between individuals operate similarly. They require committed and continuous action, in the form of communication, idea sharing, and trust. Many statistics bear this out. One study suggests that companies whose leaders are highly effective communicators experience much higher total returns to shareholders compared with firms led by poor communicators. According to a 2005 study, Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” (in which trust constitutes 60 percent of the criteria) earned over four times the returns of the broader market over the previous seven years.
Too often, a leader’s perceived need to survive the moment and address the task at hand prevents him or her from seeing beyond and laying the foundation for the strong working relationships that foster a climate of trust and worker creativity. The core themes of this special weekend remind us that there is no quick-fix to relationship building, but that the efforts that we invest in deepening our relationships will bear many fruits in the foreseeable future and beyond.
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach, writer and professional develop provider living in Passaic, NJ. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.