Past Perfect: Amalek

It may always appear thus that evil wins out, but in the long run, it is good that triumphs and survives.

There once existed a tribe, a nation of evildoers, identified as Amalek. It set itself up as being the antithesis of the Jewish people, physically, morally and socially. It resented that there existed in the world a nation that felt a special mission and that was bound by a moral code that sprang from divine revelation. It felt threatened by the mere existence of such a people, for evil cannot abide the presence of good. In 1941, the Germans occupied the town of Kelm in Lithuania. The town was famous in Jewish life because of the presence there of a famed yeshiva that embodied mussar - Jewish holy ethics and moral behavior toward man and God. The Germans destroyed the entire town, executed its Jewish population and killed the students and teachers at the yeshiva, burying many of them alive. It was there, and in other similar places as well, that good met evil head on. In the short run, it appeared that Amalek triumphed. It may always appear thus that evil wins out - witness our world of terror, genocide, fraud and malevolent hypocrisy. But in the long run, it is good that triumphs and survives. Evil carries with it a very heavy price that consumes all those associated with it. Amalek's victories, vicious and all-encompassing as they appear, are still only temporary. The Torah tells us that the Lord fights Amalek, so to speak, "from generation to generation." This means that in the measure of time and generations, Amalek is always remembered as the ultimate loser, the one who is cursed and reviled in human history and condemned in the eternal court of moral justice. The Torah bids us to destroy Amalek. Though Amalek is no longer identified as a particular tribe or nation or ethnic group, thus obviating the literal necessity of destroying anyone, nevertheless the overriding lesson of combating the forces of evil in any and all ways that are available to us remains as true today as it did in the time of Moses. We are not allowed to be passive in the face of Amalek. This is the message that Mordecai conveyed to Esther when confronting Haman, the Amalek of his time: "If you are silent now, salvation will nevertheless come to the Jewish people, but you and your family [and its memory] are doomed to destruction!" Esther's passivity in the face of Haman and the king will only lead to her own later downfall. Being currently politically correct and fawning will win one some temporary praise but eventual revulsion will surely follow. Amalek is to be opposed, not coddled and accepted. That is why the Torah commands us to remember Amalek, remember it as the eternal and uncompromising foe that we face. Evil never gives in. So we also must be unbending in our opposition to evil. The Lord bids us to remember this lesson always. Forgetting it or worse ignoring it can prove disastrous and fatal. Mordecai's greatness lay in the fact that he spotted Haman for what he was from the beginning. While others bowed and scraped to Haman, hoping to mollify him and his malevolence, Mordecai would not bow or kneel to him. Haman was Amalek and Amalek is not to be shown any quarter. We cannot wish Amalek away. Amalek is a constant reminder of how precarious life and freedom are in this world. The Torah instructs us to remember that Amalek is only weakened - that is the verb that the Torah uses to describe Joshua's triumph over Amalek in the desert of Sinai - and yet always resurrects itself in different guises and times. Many Jews thought that the Holocaust and its gruesome searing lesson would finally destroy European anti-Semitism once and for all time. How naïve that belief was is so evident in our current generation and situation. Amalek is Durban I and II, it is the pious posturing of the NGOs which call self-defense war crimes; it is the biased media coverage of events concerning Israel and Jews; and it is Iran and its proxies bent only on the destruction of Israel, the state and the people. So the Torah warns us not to be fooled or lulled into a false and unwarranted complacency. Remember Amalek! Although we would wish it to be otherwise, Amalek is not going to disappear in the foreseeable future. Eventually Amalek will not only be weakened but destroyed as well. But until that day comes, Shabbat Zachor - the Sabbath of remembrance of Amalek - will always be part of the Jewish calendar and life experience. The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator.