This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Berel Wein, Henoch Leibowitz z’l, Akiva Grunblatt, Yaacov Menkin, Akiva Tatz and Dr. Abba Goldman
Who was the greatest Jewish King we ever had?
Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah) succeeded Achaz as King of Judah. He was the greatest of all Jewish Kings, excluding David and Solomon. There are opinions that he was the greatest of all Kings including David and Solomon! That’s interesting!! How can anybody be chosen over David as the greatest of all Jewish monarchs. Perhaps, we should explore why this opinion places Chizkiyahu in such high esteem.
It’s vital to bring out an important point in order to understand the answer to our question. Let’s bring an example. My grandfather, Moshe Kimyagaroff, was one of the captivating chazanim in Israel in the 1940’s and 50’s. When a chazzan has his hypnotic moment on the congregation, any interruption will ruin the appreciation of his skill. Apparently, the moment is very special and has great value because it sprouts within anybody who is listening to an enormous amount of emotions. The power of music can be very moving.
This leads us to ask a question about us – Jews. We pride ourselves of being intelligent people. Our am Yisrael learns plenty of Torah, Baruch Hashem. It is often expressed that Gemara sharpens the mind. So, if that’s the situation, what is in the forefront for our illustrious people, emotion or intellect?
This Shabbat we have a special, additional Torah reading, Parshas Zachor. That text (Devarim, 25: 17-19) teaches us the mitzva to remember to wipe out Amalek. Amalek is the descendant of Eisav, Yaacov – our forefather’s brother.
Parshas Zachor is the only Torah reading in the entire year which we are all obliged to hear — men and women — as a mitzva de’oraita (a Commandment specified explicitly in the Torah).
However, it’s interesting to note. There are no modern maps with “Amalek” listed. There is no Amalekite government, no UN representative, not even an Internet Country Code. The only people remembering Amalek are the Jews, and we have a Commandment to destroy their memory. It would seem that the best way to perform this Mitzvah is also the easiest — namely, to forget the whole thing.
Why, one may ask, is it so hard to find or identify an Amalekite?
Our Sages tell us that Sancheriv,(705 – 681 BC) the Assyrian king, forced the many nations that he conquered to leave their homelands and settle elsewhere. As a result of these mass population movements, the Sages say, we can no longer identify the nations to which the Torah refers — e.g., Amalek — with the present-day inhabitants of the lands that bear those historic names.
It seemed Sancheriv’s decision to relocate the original inhabitant was a homerun. No one will ever dispute his authority; no one will ever rebel. The reason for this is immigrants are not patriotic. They don’t care about the government, its laws and its people. For the most part, they want to succeed financially. This is their focus, negating much of the French benefits that the host country offers. Their children will enjoy the money earned by the hard working immigrants. However, the kids would be more patriotic then the parents. But that process takes many years and by then Sancheriv would have a firm hold on the country. A basic example is no babysitter will care and do a better job taking care of the baby then the mother.
That was the master plan, switch everybody around and rule the world. Sancheriv was able to sleep at night knowing the his empire is secure.
Who are Eisav’s descendants today? Who are the prime candidates? It seems as if history has caused a split in Eisav’s personality (Amalek’s ancestors), so-to-speak, spreading his characteristics amongst his many descendants of Edom, which can include people as diverse as Russians, Italians, and Americans. This was partially due to Sancheriv’s mixing up the nations a couple of thousands of years ago when Assyria controlled the world of that time. (Brochot 28a)
For this reason, the power of Eisav has dissipated somewhat, limiting his ability to control the world and truly due to Yaakov’s descendants what he set out to do from the beginning – annihilate them. However, should the various parts of Eisav’s personality reunite in a coalition of nations, especially against Yaakov, then WATCH OUT!
However, it’s all speculations, on the whereabouts of Amalek and who they are might very well be a fruitless and perhaps dangerous witch-hunt in trying to locate such brutes. The key to understanding the commandment though lies in the verse that the Torah says about him: ” Who happened upon you (“asher korcha”) when you were on the road, after you left Egypt.” The key word here is “korcha.” In addition to its literal meaning (“happened upon you,”), this word is also rich in allusions. Thus, Chazal add: Amalek “cooled you off” (from the word “kor” –cold), reducing the warmth of your relationship with G-d.
We see a pattern in the Torah where G-d invokes a tough response to those who defuse the spiritual obeisance. When Yitzchak was born to Avraham and Sarah, G-d’s representatives, his ambassadors in this world, after so many years, it was proclaimed a miracle. Naturally, they couldn’t have kids, however, its G-d that runs the show. But there was one person who belittled Yitzchak, who was the first baby born tiny – Og – the giant was nasty. All the babies born till then were delivered fully developed. By making fun of tiny Yitzchak, saying “this little thing can’t survive”, he downplayed the miracle. G-d’s response was “the descendents of this little thing as you call him – will end your life”. The Jews of Moshe’s time disposed of Og.
Another example: when Moshe hit the rock after G-d instructed him to speak to it. By hitting the rock Moshe missed an opportunity to enhance the moment to a great spiritual height. Speech is man’s precious commodity and should be used in the appropriate time.
It seems like something got away of spirituality; there was a divide between G-d and man, a barrier where one doesn’t have the ability at least for a moment, not to see clearly.
Dr. Abba Goldman says: “one has to use emotions properly, at times it’s important to let your enthusiasm take over, however, at times emotions can be dangerous and one has to hold back; one has to use measure of control.”
A prime example is the story of Esther on Purim.
Haman, the Amalekite, convinced king Achashveirosh to sign a decree killing all Jews at a certain date. Not known to the king his new Queen, which he has grown fonder and fonder towards her, over the short time since her being chosen, is Jewish. Esther, the Queen, devises a plan, carefully orchestrated, largely, with the help of her uncle, Mordechai. Esther will invite Haman to a dinner party that only will have the company of herself, the king and Haman, where she will disclose that “one evil man, intends to destroy my people”. Achashveirosh, at that point in time, is mesmerized with the charming Esther, will no doubt stop the decree.
The bait was set and taken. All three were at the table and Esther, on cue ready, stands, to point the finger at Haman, as Achashveirosh asks “who is this person” (that wants to destroy your people). At that moment, strangely, the Sages say – Ester pointed the finger at Achashveirosh, indicating that he is that wicked, anti-Semite who wants to destroy the Jews. Quickly an angel came and redirected the finger at Haman.
The sages asked, what was she thinking? All you had to do is follow the script. Why mess it up now? You’re so close to a successful mission!!
The reason: why Esther acted that way is because of stress. Perhaps, the readers are familiar with stress. Under duress, Esther let her emotions take over for the reason that emotion is extremely powerful component found in all of us. When the emotions are distracted one can’t think straight.
WHY DO WE DRINK WINE ON PURIM?
The simple explanation of the passage “When wine goes in, the secret comes out”, is when people get drunk, they blurt out what is in their heart, which is often embarrassing. Rabbi Akiva Tatz has a different explanation quoting the mystics. “What’s the secret”? He explains, “When wine goes in, one sees life in a clearer picture. He becomes more spiritual, discovering deep ideas and a thinking pattern that can never be expressed with words. Words are limited; they are specific, and one who consumes wine can never express the feelings he experiences”.
The Talmud tells us that on Purim one should drink until he does not differentiate between “blessed is Mordechai and cursed is Haman.” This is not an encouragement to reach an unconscious drunken stupor; there is a more profound explanation. Perhaps, we are being told that on Purim we should utilize the power of wine to remove the obstacles between head and heart, to facilitate this internalization process so that we do not just know this, but to assure we bring it beyond the realm of the intellect into the emotions. The wine helps obliterate the cold nature, to break the barrier that doesn’t make us see clear.
When a Jew drinks – the loving nature, the warmth, should emerge not the anger and coldness.
Our task and G-d’s task are different ones. G-d protects us from the physical Amalek, while it is our responsibility to battle the Amalek, i.e., the evil, within each of us. Moreover, G-d’s ability to destroy the physical Amalek’s of the world is dependent upon our destroying our own Amaleks. This is the meaning of the Gemara (Chullin 139a) which states: “Where is G-d alluded to in the Torah? In the verse (Bereishit 3:11), `Hamin ha’etz’ / From the tree from which I commanded that you not eat, did you eat?'” When Adam committed the first sin in history, he made possible the existence of Haman and Amalek. (Haman was a descendant of Amalek.). One of the key methods in accomplishing that goal is with the right emotions. It is vital that we not allow the Amalek-kor-cold emotions to take over us. Our emotion has to be channeled correctly.
Perhaps, David was able to accomplish more in his tenure as King however, as Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt, Rosh Yeshiva of Chaffetz Chaim, says Chizkiyahu was able to master his emotions in the area of bitachon-trusting G-d. A sensitive area where one can lose appreciation of the moment if he lets the Amalek in him to take over.
When an incident happens in our lives – our first reaction is with our emotions, that’s what strikes first, so it’s very important to be able to use our head and not to be compulsive in the heat of the moment.