Remembering Amalek

The Midrash in Pirkei
d’Rabbi Eliezer asks: How could there be a mitzvah to remember what Amalek
did—But it says "Remember the Shabbos"? Answers the Midrash: One remembrance is
to sanctify, the other to destroy.

Why does the Midrash see a problem in remembering both Amalek
and Shabbos? Why can’t there be both? The fact is, we actually remember Amalek
on Shabbos!

In order to understand this Midrash, we have to understand
what Amalek is about. What is so terrible about Amalek? They seemed to have done
much less damage to us than some of our other enemies. True, they attacked us in
the wilderness, but it doesn’t say anywhere that they even succeeded in killing
anyone. Yet, of all our enemies, it is they who are singled out for

The answer is, because they were the first to attack Israel
after the Exodus and Splitting of the Sea. And their daring encouraged others.

But why is it that, of all the nations, Amalek did not fear
the consequences of attacking Israel? My heart tells me that the difference
between them and the others is that whereas the other enemies of Israel were
idolators, Amalek were atheists, which is worse. Those who worship idols believe
in something; in powers that control the world, that have to be served or
manipulated in order to get what they want. They recognize some kind of guiding
intelligence and order in the universe. Atheism denies all that. What, then,
rule the world in their eyes? Coincidence. Accident. The antithesis of
a meaningful, purposeful universe. All that remains is pragmatism. If you don’t
step on my toes, I won’t step on yours. Of course, if I can step on your toes
and get away with it, why not, since there is no higher morality governing the

When an idolator witnesses the Splitting of the Sea, he may
not be able to identify the deity behind it, but he knows it is powerful and
commands respect. An atheist, on the other hand, will not attribute it to any
supernatural power. The Russian Jewish scientist Velikovsky, will serve as an
example. He accepted the historicity of the events of the Exodus. As an atheist,
however, he felt compelled to find a scientific explanation. He theorized that
the planet Venus was not always in its present orbit, and at that time it was on
a collision-course with Earth, and there was a near-miss. The extreme
gravitational pull of Venus as it passed close by wrought havoc with nature,
causing the miracles. Just when the Jews needed it, there was Venus!

Likewise, Amalek knew what happened. But it didn’t frighten
them, because the odds against the repetition of such a phenomenon are

The gematria of Amalek is safek, doubt. They
bring doubt into our minds. As long as Amalek exists, as long as there is
another philosophy in the world that denies G-d, it makes belief harder. Like
all the professors and the lavishly illustrated textbooks that teach evolution.
If so many intelligent, sophisticated people put forth such ideas, it makes you
think twice about the traditional viewpoint. It creates doubt, a concealment of
G-d’s presence, which is the opening to attack.

Now we can begin to understand the contradiction between
remembering Shabbos and remembering Amalek. Why do we have to remember Shabbos
every day, as we do prior to the Shir Shel Yom,”Hayom yom rishon, sheni…shel
Is G-d afraid that I’m so feeble-minded that I’ll forget, and go
straight from Friday to Sunday? No, it’s because, thinking about Shabbos during
the week strengthens my faith, because Shabbos is the testimony that G-d created
the world and is involved in it. Faith requires constant reinforcement.

Remembering Amalek, on the other hand, will only serve to
weaken faith by reminding us that there are people who deny G-d’s existence.
Thus, the two remembrances are contradictory. That is the question in the

The answer depends on the proper understanding of these
remembrances. There is another Midrash that tells of a person who owned a
vineyard. His neighbor once tried to steal some grapes, and the watchdog bit him
and chased him away. The next year, the owner wanted to warn him not to try
stealing from him again. So he said, “Remember what my watchdog did to you last
year?" He did, and he didn’t try stealing again.

G-d commanded us to remember what Amalek did, like the
reminder to the thief. That is what the Midrash calls "remembering to destroy."
Not that we might forget, but that by remembering the doubts that brought on
Amalek’s attack, we are able to destroy them, and him. Likewise, "remembering to
sanctify" does not mean not to forget that Shabbos is coming. Rather, it means
that by remembering Shabbos, we will be strengthened in the faith that Shabbos

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