D'var Torah from earlier this year


The story of the Amalekites is one of the most graphic and violent stories of the Tanakh.  The Amalekites are mentioned several times in the Tanakh.  They are mentioned first in Genesis, then in Exodus, Numbers, and Judges, and also in Samuel and Deuteronomy.

 The challenge with the story is the outright hostility and violence perpetuated by the commandments against the Amalekites. Saul “sent 210,000 soldiers to kill everyone and everything among the Amalekites: men, women, children, babies.”[1] Violence pitted against even the Amalekite women and children were actual mitzvoth.[2]

            It is my belief that our religious tradition is not calling for the outright genocide of a people, but instead something much different. First, the story of Esau and Jacob is about a struggle between good and evil.[3] The Amalekites are the descendants of Esau (who was Amalek’s grandfather). The Amalekite descendants represented the continued struggle between Jacob and Esau, or between good and evil. Evil was never destroyed. The Amalekites were never fully exterminated. Although their own people were robbed of land, they were not eliminated from Earth; instead, they became a part of every person, their yetzer hora.

The struggle between good and evil exists today within every person. The commandment is for every Jew to follow each of the mitzvoth, including 598—Wipe out the descendants of Amalek (Deut. 25:19), 599—to remember what Amalek did to the Jewish people (Deut. 25:17), and 600—not to forget Amalek’s atrocities and ambush on our journey from Egypt in the desert (Deut. 25:19), which is a reminder that evil exists. Actually wiping out evil may require us to purge our own souls of all evil inclinations, the yetzer hora. This is the same yetzer hora that ambushed the Israelites on our journey from Egypt in the desert that was responsible for our own (as well as others) idolatry, lashon hora, and hatred.

            According to my own interpretation, the Amaleks as a people do not exist in any physical form today; rather, they are a part of all humanity. They are the yetzer hora.  This interpretation can also address the inhumanity of the mitzvot actually calling for the extermination of the prodigy of Amalek. When interpreted accordingly, the Amaleks are the evil exhibited in all mankind. The inhumanity of our commandment falls apart more easily when interpreting the texts in this way. The prodigies, accordingly, are not physical children and wives but instead only people exhibiting evil traits.

            Pure evil—the type that can be exterminated and be done with—died out when the Amalekites lost their nation and became a splintered people. Since then, evil and the Amalekites have become embedded in everyone (whether through assimilation or—more fascinating a concept to me—by becoming some sort of dybbik-like entity: a dislocated soul of one of the Amalekites). Exterminating humans who exhibit evil inclinations and characteristics will never exterminate evil. Since any person can exhibit evil, it cannot be exterminated in the flesh. Every human is capable of redemption, salvation, and atonement. Instead of exterminating evil humans, evil must be exterminated by baseless love, acts of kindness, sanctifying G-d, and teaching others basic lessons from our liturgy.

At first glance, this text appears draconian and openly hostile. However, upon closer inspection, the text offers insight into other issues. This insight reforms the inhumanity of the text and addresses evil.

            Based on this analysis and my interpretation of the texts, in some ways, I suppose I am calling for a revisal of the entire judicial system. I also couldn’t help but to rely on some important Kabbalistic thoughts. 


[1] Wells, Steve. “Dwindling In Unbelief.” Dwindling in Unbelief. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.

[2] Rich, Tracy. “Judaism 101: A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments).” Judaism 101: A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). 2011. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.

[3] Polin, Schuyler. “JST-507_weekone1post.” Forum 2: Jacob and the Angel, Thoughts from the Reading. Web. 5 Sept. 2015

Works Cited


Polin, Schuyler. “JST-507_weekone1post.” Forum 2: Jacob and the Angel, Thoughts from the Reading. Web. 5 Sept. 2015


Rich, Tracy. “Judaism 101: A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments).” Judaism 101: A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). 2011. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.

Wells, Steve. “Dwindling In Unbelief.” Dwindling In Unbelief. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.