Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Amalek: The Godless Nation?

I was speaking to my little brother Urchin tonight when he pointed out something brilliant. I had asserted that Amalek was a nation like every other nation in Tanakh, i.e. a pagan nation that worshipped idols. My brother pointed out that he had learned from Rabbi Shuman, his rebbe in Skokie Yeshiva, that the essence of Amalek was the desire not to defer to God in anything, and therefore, to choose to believe no god to whom they owed anything existed.

"Really?" I exclaimed. "That's fascinating. You mean they had no idols?"

He wrinkled his brow. "Except there's the idea that Haman was from Amalek, and Haman was wearing an idol on his breastplate," he mused aloud. "Although that's only a midrash; it's not anywhere in the text, right?"

"Precisely so," I answered. "That's a midrash."

Curious, I went to look up Urchin's point. From what I found, he is right. Every other nation has gods or idols ascribed to them. Examples:


א כִּי יְבִיאֲךָ, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה בָא-שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ; וְנָשַׁל גּוֹיִם-רַבִּים מִפָּנֶיךָ הַחִתִּי וְהַגִּרְגָּשִׁי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי, וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי--שִׁבְעָה גוֹיִם, רַבִּים וַעֲצוּמִים מִמֶּךָּ. 1 When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and shall cast out many nations before thee, the Hittite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;


ה כִּי-אִם-כֹּה תַעֲשׂוּ, לָהֶם--מִזְבְּחֹתֵיהֶם תִּתֹּצוּ, וּמַצֵּבֹתָם תְּשַׁבֵּרוּ; וַאֲשֵׁירֵהֶם, תְּגַדֵּעוּן, וּפְסִילֵיהֶם, תִּשְׂרְפוּן בָּאֵשׁ. 5 But thus shall ye deal with them: ye shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.

~Deuteronomy 7: 1, 5


כג וְסַרְנֵי פְלִשְׁתִּים, נֶאֶסְפוּ לִזְבֹּחַ זֶבַח-גָּדוֹל לְדָגוֹן אֱלֹהֵיהֶם--וּלְשִׂמְחָה; וַיֹּאמְרוּ--נָתַן אֱלֹהֵינוּ בְּיָדֵנוּ, אֵת שִׁמְשׁוֹן אוֹיְבֵנוּ. 23 And the lords of the Philistines gathered them together to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice; for they said: 'Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.'

~Judges 16: 23


אָז יִבְנֶה שְׁלֹמֹה בָּמָה, לִכְמוֹשׁ שִׁקֻּץ מוֹאָב, בָּהָר, אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וּלְמֹלֶךְ, שִׁקֻּץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן. 7 Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh the detestation of Moab, in the mount that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestation of the children of Ammon.

~Kings I 11:7


ה וַיֵּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה--אַחֲרֵי עַשְׁתֹּרֶת, אֱלֹהֵי צִדֹנִים; וְאַחֲרֵי מִלְכֹּם, שִׁקֻּץ עַמֹּנִים. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the detestation of the Ammonites.

~Kings I 11:5

But there is no mention that I can find of Amalek's gods or idols. And that is totally fascinating. Here are all the places that Amalek comes up and not once is there a reference to this nation's idols or gods.

Indeed, when God commands Saul to wipe out the Amalekites, he makes mention of destroying all their posessions but says nothing of destroying their idols. This suggests that they have no idols because in other places there are explicit commands given to destroy idols and gods as well. Here is God's decree:

עַתָּה לֵךְ וְהִכִּיתָה אֶת-עֲמָלֵק, וְהַחֲרַמְתֶּם אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ, וְלֹא תַחְמֹל, עָלָיו; וְהֵמַתָּה מֵאִישׁ עַד-אִשָּׁה, מֵעֹלֵל וְעַד-יוֹנֵק, מִשּׁוֹר וְעַד-שֶׂה, מִגָּמָל וְעַד-חֲמוֹר. {ס} 3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.'

~Samuel I 15: 3

And you know what else is fascinating? When Samuel comes to kill Agag, the king states, "'Surely the bitterness of death is at hand." But even there he is stubborn- he does not acknowledge God or the role of God in his death. In contrast, when Samuel hews him into pieces, he does so "before God."

(Incidentally, this explains why Saul's rebellion was looked upon in such harsh terms. If the Amalekites were a godless nation who were total atheists and saw the material world as the only thing that existed, then for Saul to refuse to heed God's command in its totality shows that he has ingested/ been negatively affected by their creed. It is almost as though Saul has taken on a bit of the Amalekite spirit and thus rebels...this is why his punishment was so harsh.)

Thus, the reason we are meant to kill Amalek is because Amalek is the root of total godlessless and "kochi v'otzem yadi" in this world. This was a nation that had no idols. Every nation had its gods but Amalek has no gods, none at all, and refuses to acknowledge the role of God in this world. This is the reason they must be utterly wiped out- their ideology and their creed is anathema to God.

Incidentally, Urchin's totally brilliant idea regarding all this was stated by Rav Moshe Sternbuch and Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin (as noted in this devar torah.) The actual devar torah was given by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis. He notes:
    Amalek’s basic assumption is that only teva, nature, has true existence. Anything which does not fit into this framework is discounted. Today, as Amalek’s influence grows stronger, doubt of the existence of the Alm-ghty is almost a given in most Western societies. What is it that fuels Amalek to challenge the most basic tenets of our belief?


    In contrast to Amalek, who completely deny Hashem’s existence, the erev rav and all idol-worshipers through the generations believed in a Divine power. No one was ever so foolish as to think that manmade idols of gold and silver created the universe. The ideology of idol worshipers is based on the erroneous idea that Hashem is too exalted to trouble Himself with our petty, day-to-day existence, so people should pray for assistance to idols that act as intermediaries between us and the Alm-ghty.
I would like to point out that a 15-year-old boy and a 20-year-old girl were mechaven to the thoughts of these very respected Chareidi leaders. How's that for the universality of Torah?

Urchin, you are fabulous!


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I seem to remember reading or hearing some place an explanation that the description of ‘Amaleiḳ אשר קרך בדרך can be connected to מקרה — they only believed in 'happenstance'.

EJB said...

Wonderfully interconnected with Rav Chaim Soloveichik's famous interpretation of the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 5:4-5).
Rambam first codifies the law to destroy the 7 nations. However, he writes that this commandment cannot be fulfilled today because "וכבר עברו זכרם" - we do not currently know who is a member of the 7 nations (Brachos 28a - since Sancherev mixed up all of the nations). Rambam continues that "and similarly it is a commandment to destroy the remembrance of Amalek." Rambam omits "וכבר עברו זכרם" regarding Amalek, explains Rav Chaim Soloveichik, because Amalek is still discernible today. Amalek is not a race; it is an ideology.

anon said...

how were you mechaven to this when your brother's rebbe told it to him?

Chana said...

No, my brother's rebbe told him that Amalek didn't wish to be beholden to God- the rest of it, namely that they themselves were a godless nation who did not worship idolatry, is something he/I figured out from the pesukim. (Because you could theoretically have people who believed in God but just didn't want to be beholden to him.)

The Talmid said...

It is an insult to R' Yehoshua Leib Diskin to call him chareidi. What is called chareidi today was created after WWII.

EJB - this is really the idea of R' Chaim's son R' Moshe, as quoted by the Rav near the end of Kol Dodi Dofek. Even the chareidi Michel Shurkin in Harerei Kedem I 186 admits it's from R' Moshe and not R' Chaim. (You do know that the second volume of the Hagada shel pesach beis halevi-Brisk has all bunch of stuff labelled "Grach [R' Chaim], student's writings" but really was original explanations by the Rav, but the chareidi who gave these notes to be published wasn't brave enough to put the Rav's name on it.)

For an excellent resource on contemporary chareidiism vs Torah-true ideology, see
http://briskyeshiva.blogspot.com/ which unfortunately is not complete.

EJB said...

The Talmid:
I stand corrected. I believe Rabbi JJ Schachter made that point in his introductory remarks at Keter Torah's Tisha B'av Webcast he hosted.

Chana said...

Talmid, I was referring to the other two people-not R' Diskin.

Malka said...

Rav Rudman gave us a shiur like this in Michlala. He pointed out that Amalek's father was Elifaz ben Esav (Vayishlach 36:12). "Elifaz" literally means "my god is gold." (This fits very well with the Midrash that that Elifaz carried out Esav's order to kill Yaakov by merely robbing him: to Elifaz, one without money was indeed a nonentity.) So that's some background for Amalek's ideology: Aurum est potestas.
Amalek's mother was Timna, Elifaz's concubine. According to Sanhedrin 99b, she wanted to marry into Avraham's family, but Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov refused her, so she went to be Elifaz's concubine. Hm. Rav Rudman did something with that: I think Amalek's animosity for those who had rejected his mother. Anyway, it seems that it's the Elifaz line that I wanted.

Chana, your point about no command to destroy Amalek's *idols* is very, very cool.

Ayze hu chacham said...

Rabbi Shuman, his rebbe in Skokie Yeshiva, that the essence of Amalek was the desire not to defer to God in anything, and therefore, to choose to believe no god to whom they owed anything existed.


"Although that's only a midrash; it's not anywhere in the text, right?"

I don't get it - you dismiss the midrash because it is not "in the text" (whatever that means, the text of what, the Megilla, the Bavli?) but your whole thesis that you started with came from R' Shuman - where is the text supporting his idea?

Chana said...


Thanks for awesome input. That point re: Elifaz and 'my god is gold' is SO cool.

Ayze hu chacham,

I mean to say peshat vs. derash (when I say: the text, I mean peshat.) So the question was whether the idea that Amalek had some sort of god is in the text i.e. peshat - and it's not. The absence of something in the text is sometimes just as indicative as it being stated outright- the fact that we seem not to have any Amalekite god or idol suggests there were none.

harry-er than them all said...

and elifaz's father eisav, we dont know clearly what he believes. he rejected the brachos that had to do with the world to come, which may or may not say something about his belief in g-d. (this is off the top of my head)

jackie said...

In next week's parsha, when we have Parshas Zachor, the line "V'ata ayef v'tageih v'lo yarei Elokim" could refer either entirely to Bnei Yisrael, or the "lo yarei Elokim" part actually applies to Amalek--more evidence of their gdlessness. Check which rishon says it--I learned it a few years back but it was definitely in the mainstream sources.

The Talmid said...

was stated by Rav Moshe Sternbuch and Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin (as noted in this devar torah.) The actual devar torah was given by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis.
were mechaven to the thoughts of these very respected Chareidi leaders.
Chana said...
Talmid, I was referring to the other two people-not R' Diskin.

thanks for the clarification

The Talmid said...

Amalek's mother was Timna, Elifaz's concubine. According to Sanhedrin 99b, she wanted to marry into Avraham's family, but Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov refused her, so she went to be Elifaz's concubine. Hm.

See Tosfos, Yevamos 109b s.v. ra'ah says if someone really sincerely wants to convert we accept them, because the avos were punishing for not accepting Timna...she begat Amalek to the detriment of Yisrael...

I have no idea where Rabbi Rudman was going with this, but please recognize that Rabbi Rudman takes a very kabbala-oriented approach. The authenticity of the zohar is dubious, as no one had it until the time of Ramban, when Moshe deLeon "found it" and said that it was written by Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai. With the attitude toward midrashim in this post, the positive reception of kabalistic literature is not guaranteed.

Chana said...


The assumed "attitude" you think I possess regarding midrashim is not correct. Also, Malka's one of my best friends so she knows I respect both Midrash and the Zohar.

Anonymous said...

@Chana: Great post. I've often wondered what this really means for us today, since in years past people could just say "these people aren't Amalek", but today, it's more difficult.

"The authenticity of the zohar is dubious, as no one had it until the time of Ramban, when Moshe deLeon "found it" and said that it was written by Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai."

I'm not sure what you mean here but the Ramban states as his teacher "Azriel", who in turn has his teacher stated as "Issac the Blind" who's father and teacher was the Raavad, and you can keep tracing back teacher to student untill you reach Merwan ha-Levi the av-betd in of Narbonne (1150s)(which is a location in France that is mentioned in the Talmud and quoted as being a city of scholars)

Moshe DeLeon was born in 1250, which means he was only 20 when the Ramban died in Israel. (1270)

If the Ramban had the zohar, it means the zohar existed before Moshe DeLeon wrote it.

Diet Dr. Pepper said...



Thanks for sharing R' Rudman's note on Elifaz. R' Leff also made that diyuk. I remember asking him for a source, since I wanted to quote it, and he told me that he thought of it himself.

Just thought that was kind of cool.

Malka said...

The Talmid: thank you for citing the tosfos on Timna; I like sources. Though as Dr. Diet Pepper pointed out, Elifaz just sort of pops out at people [at least people who read so as to have something like taht pop out at them :)]

The Talmid said...

Anon, There is no question the Ramban knew Kabala, but where does Ramban quote the Zohar?

Chaim said...

You might find this intresting especially the origins of amalek and the connection to athiesm which is discussed by the baal shem tov http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amalek

Chaim said...

To Talmid: regarding the zohar it is true that there are questions about authenticity and there are various approaches the most extreme is R` Yaakov Emden who claims that the ideas are authentic but the text itself is not reliable but as in many cases it seems that history has shown beyond doubt that the jewish orthodoxy have accepted the zohar as noted by the Gra,even skeptics agree that the ideas came from somewhere they were not created from thin air maybe Moses de lion had some input but he did not make it all up. In any case respect should be shown toward the zohar.

Yaelle said...

This was a great post. It is also completely in line with the pesukim that we read on Parashat Zakhor. Amalek's attack on Israel is described as follows (Deut. 25:18):

אשר קרך בדרך ויזנב בך כל הנחשלים אחריך ואתה עיף ויגע ולא ירא אלקים

Previously, I tended to assume that it was the true G-d, the G-d of Israel that performed the miracle of the Exodus and splitting of the sea, that Amalek did not fear. However, if you look at the language of the pesukim (quoted in Chana's post) regarding the false gods of the other nations, the same term is used for their god as for ours, i.e. אלהי הצדוֹנים. They don't fear any higher power. And without fear there is no worship. Thanks!

William Dwek said...

The Swine Flu is common in PIGS.

This is a clear indication that it is the Dayanim – ‘Judges’ - and ‘Rabbis’ of today who are the PIGS and swines.

They twist and use the Torah for their own power and commercial benefit.

They are corrupt. And they are interested in only one thing:


Not the Torah.

William Dwek said...

When ‘dayanim’ and ‘rabbis’ use the Torah for their own power and commercial profit, this is the behaviour of a swine i.e. a Pig.

No other ‘rabbi’ will ever act against another ‘rabbi’ - even when he knows his colleague is clearly desecrating the Torah. Each rabbi is only worried about losing his own position.

Therefore, the ‘rabbi’ and ‘dayan’ will never effect justice. And he will never truly stand for the Torah or the Honour of Hashem. His pocket will always prevail.

The Torah must never be used for commercial gain and profit. Am Yisrael can only be lead by those who have the necessary love and respect of Hashem and the Torah.

William Dwek said...

1. The ‘dayan’ and ‘rabbi’ may use lies. They turn the innocent into the guilty, and the guilty, become the innocent. They will not hesitate to tell lies in the Synagogue.

2. The ‘dayan’ and ‘rabbi’ may steal. They steal and siphon off money for themselves, from the community and individuals.

3. The ‘dayan’ and ‘rabbi’ may commit murder. They may shame a Jew in public, even repeatedly. This is one of the most vile acts of murder in Jewish law – and they know this.

4. The ‘dayan’ and ‘rabbi’ will not hesitate to use Lashon Hara - the ‘Evil Tongue’ - to suit his own ends. Slander and gossip. This too, is one of the worst acts of murder in Jewish Law. Their slander is never challenged by the community, because they hold positions of power. And the slander may begin with the Rebbetzin herself.

5. The ‘dayanim’ and ‘rabbis’ worship idols and other gods. Their only god is Money. Especially the ‘Dayanim’ – the ‘Judges’ who sit on a Beit Din. They only care about their high incomes and retirement packages. They have little or no love for the Torah or Hashem.

In the case of Lubavitch/Chabad, all their rabbis are carrying out a form of Avodah Zarah – strange worship. They are using mediation and intercession. This is completely forbidden, and against the Torah. We are only allowed to pray to Hashem, directly ourselves.

6. When the NAME of Hashem has been taken in Vain – repeatedly - by reshaim, the ‘rabbi’ will turn a deaf ear and blind eye to the


This is the abhorrent behaviour of a Pig.

This is an extremely severe and dangerous situation.

There is NO forgiveness for this evil sin and aveirah.

7. The ‘dayan’ and ‘rabbi’ may also offer large bribes, tell lies and bring False Witnesses – when he in fact has committed the crime. These are heinous acts of the most despicable kind. This is especially vile when the ‘dayan’ is sitting on a ‘Beit Din.’

8. The ‘rabbi’ may commit adultery. And when he gets divorced, he may spread slander about his own ex-wife, blackening her name – when in fact he was at fault.

9. The ‘dayan’ and ‘rabbi’ may also desecrate Shabbat – if it suits him. He will use physical violence to assault another Jew or Jewess at any time. This evil and venomous behaviour is 100% against the Torah.

Eliyahoo William Dwek said...

A further word of advice regarding those who masquerade as a ‘dayan’ ‘rabbi’ or false ‘mekubal’:

1. These men may knowingly and willingly, deliberately deceive a Jew or Jewess. e.g. in the area of shidduchim, or offering to perform a ‘pidyon nefesh’.

This abhorrent and deceptive behaviour has caused tremendous harm to people who are innocent and trusting.

2. Do not ever ‘kiss the hands’ of these men (which they might offer to you in public).

3. And do not be duped into queuing and waiting, to see them for their ‘brachot’ (‘blessings’). They peddle ‘brachot’ purely for their own selfish gratification and ‘kavod’ (‘honour’).

Their duplicitous behaviour is nothing short of deception and cunning. In short they are abhorant and causing so much harm to amm israel. They prey on the vulnerable, and those who are naïve, unsuspecting and trusting of these pedlars.

Moshe said...

Getting back to Saul's rebellion we see a further proof to what you are talking about by looking at the conversation between Saul and Samuel. In three instances during the conversation, Saul, when talking to Samuel, refers to God as "Your God." (Samuel I 15:15, 15:21, 15:30) This seems to imply that Saul no longer sees the God of the Jews as his God.

Moshe said...

I recently went through that episode in Tanach and I couldn't understand why Saul had said that. Now it seems to fit. (And to think that I found this post at random :)

Eliyahoo William Dwek said...

Any man who chooses to be a ‘rabbi’ (‘true teacher’ of Torah) or a ‘dayan’ (‘judge’), or a ‘mekubal’ (‘kabbalist’) should be doing so Voluntarily. Out of his pure love for Hashem and the Torah. And his Ahavat Yisrael.

If he refuses to do community work voluntarily, and wants and accepts payment for everything he does, such a man should not be leading a community. He should get a job and earn a living. He can collect milk bottles or clean the windows. That is what is called ‘earning a living’.

Torah is learned, studied and taught: out of Love. Voluntarily. But the ‘rabbis’ have turned the Torah into their ‘Profession’, from which they earn money.

We are commanded in the Shema to:
‘LOVE Hashem, your G-d, WITH ALL YOUR HEART, and with all your soul and with all your might.’

‘VE’AHAVTA et Hashem Elokecha BECHOL LEVAVECHA uvechol nafshecha uvechol meodecha.’ (Devarim, Vaethanan, 6:4-5)

Is the ordinary man or woman PAID to pray to Hashem, or to say some words of Torah? No. Has veshalom! But the rabbis are. These men can give ‘lovely’ shiurim that they have rehearsed. But they would not give a shiur without being paid for it.

The true hachamim and rabbis of old, all actually worked at proper jobs and professions.

Wake up! Even a little child could have worked this out. These salaried men can never truly stand for the Torah, because in a case of conflict between a correct course of action according to the Torah, and the rabbi or rav’s pocket – his pocket and position will always prevail.

Pirkei Avot: (2:2)
“Raban Gamliel beno shel Rabi Yehuda HaNassi omer: yafeh talmud Torah im derech eretz, sheyegiat shenaihem mashkachat avon. Vechol Torah she’ein imah melacha sofa betailah ve’goreret avon. Vechol haoskim im hatzibbur yiheyu imahem leShem Shamayim……”

“Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabi Yehuda HaNassi, said: It is good to combine Torah study with a worldly occupation, for working at them both drives sin from the mind. All Torah without an occupation will in the end fail and lead to sin. And let all who work for the community do so for the sake of Heaven………”

This is the Amalek of today.