This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Ki Teitzei (5770)
This week's Torah portion contains a lot of commandments; 73 altogether. Some deal with marriage and divorce, for instance the laws of Yibum (marrying one's childless dead brother's widow) and laws of requiring a special 'divorce bill' ('called a 'Get'). Others are monetary laws like not delaying wages and having honest weights and measures.
But the last three are a bit strange. 1) Remember what Amalek did to you 2) Exterminate Amalek and 3) Don't forget Amalek.
Amalek was a nation that attacked the Jews in the desert after they left Egypt on their way to Israel. They represent the essence of Anti-Semitism, they still exist and therefore it is a commandment to destroy them before they try to destroy us.
But this, at first glance, is totally not understood. First of all, no one knows today who this nation is. In fact one of the goals of Moshiach (along with building the Third Temple and gathering the Jews to Israel) will be to identify them and destroy them (Rambam. Hil.Melachim 1:1). So until then… why worry? And even then it won't be our business but rather that of the Moshiach.
Why are there two commandments; to remember and not to forget Amalek?
To understand this here is a story based on an email I received recently from Chabad in Mineola ( chabadmineola.com).
Anti-Semitism existed since the first Jew, Abraham began being called 'Ha'ivri' ('on the other side'); the entire world was on one side and he was on the 'other'. But World War Two brought it into a new dimension. myriads of Jews were scientifically and barbarically murdered daily, unhindered, for six years, before the eyes of the entire world by one of the most advanced and cultured' nations in history… for absolutely no logical reason.
But amazingly, despite German efficiency there were Jews that survived.
One of them was Yehuda Finerman.
He had been young and strong when he entered Auschwitz with his parents and siblings. But four years later when he got out he was broken in body and spirit and....totally alone.
After a few months in recuperation camp and a few years wandering from job to job he decided to move to Israel, purported to be the haven for 'survivors', and volunteer in a Kibbutz.
That is where he met Jerry Simon. Jerry had just finished a stint in the U.S. Army where he had encountered subtle and no-so-subtle forms of anti-Semitism. He thought that the U.S.A. was the land of equality and the army was battling bigotry and evil; but he got a rude awakening when he met soldiers and civilians that hated Jews more than they hated the Nazis.
So he figured that Israel would be his city of refuge from anti-Semitism. There he could achieve the Zionist dream of being a human being like everyone else and forgetting that he was a Jew. But even here he couldn't escape it.
In the Kibbutz he and Yehuda became working partners but they didn't really get to know each other; there was not too much time for talking or even thinking. They worked till they were hungry and tired, then slept till they were ready to work again the next morning. All he knew about Yehuda was that he had been through the death camps and that he was a really good guy; their friendship was natural and they didn't have to say much to understand each other.
But one hot summer day when they were toiling side by side under the blazing sun Jerry couldn't help but notice the numbers tattooed on his friend's bared forearm that ended in ---7416. "Hey!!" He gasped "That's my number!"
What's the matter, Jerry?" Yehuda asked.
"I….I'm sorry" Jerry stammered "I'm not trying to be nosy or anything, but I couldn't help but notice the numbers on your forearm. Err, I mean, what struck me is that those numbers----seven, four, one, six---just happen to be the last four digits of my American social security number! I had to use it a lot filling out papers in the army and when I was applying for work afterwards so it really rang a bell. Sorry for blurting out like that."
'That's what you're so excited about?" Yehuda almost scoffed. "It's just a meaningless coincidence."
But Jerry couldn't stop thinking about it and a few hours later in the lunch break he turned to his friend and said, "Look Yehuda, I mean, if you don't want to talk about it it's okay, but, well, I don't really know what happened there in the concentration camps. I mean I've heard terrible things, saw some photos but… is it all true? What did they do to the Jews there? I mean, why did they tattoo you? Like, did EVERYONE have a number? Did they ever call you by your name?
Yehuda looked at Jerry thoughtfully and said almost to himself. "I never talked about it but maybe I should. Maybe you're right. Maybe it's a mistake to keep it in. Maybe it's good that everyone knows. All right my friend. I'll tell you exactly what happened."
For the next hour, Yehuda told his story. How all the Jews in town were rounded up by the Nazis and how no one dreamed that they were going to be murdered; certainly not by the Germans who were so just and proper! Everyone did as told, even the Rabbi. "They put us in cattle cars, hundreds packed in each car, and then we got out and stood on line at selection---my brother, my sisters, my parents, and I---- it was like yesterday. And we were branded with these numbers, in numerical order. But it was a sort of trick so we all figured we would live..why else would they brand us? But afterwards we didn't have names. Only numbers. The line was huge. Then our turn came. First my parents, then my brothers and sisters, I was next to last, followed by my brother. We were split up everyone to the left, but me. I never saw any of them again. I was the only one who survived. I asked around after the war and someone told me they were dead!"
Jerry was silent. What could he possibly say in the face of such suffering? Now he understood why survivors were loath to recount their stories. Their nightmare was truly unutterable, unspeakable. But still, the story had to be told…didn't it? But he never brought up the subject again.
Twenty years later, Jerry had long left the kibbutz, got married, had a family and was working in the Jerusalem area as a tour guide for wealthy Americans who wanted to be personally chaperoned in a comfortable limousine. He still kept occasional contact with Yehuda who had since married and settled down elsewhere in Israel.
Most of Jerry's clients were kind and amiable and he generally enjoyed his job. But he had all types, including some real freaks. For instance, one day he picked up a middle-aged American at the airport whose behavior was monstrous! He was an obnoxious control freak that continually shouted conflicting orders from the back of the car and then curses even if they were carried out exactly as he said.
Jerry clenched his teeth and made an almost superhuman effort to remain polite. But finally, just when he couldn't take it anymore and let out a groan of frustration, the man inexplicably shouted: "Pull over to the side of the road!"
"What?" Jerry asked, thinking that perhaps his passenger either wanted to fire him or was having some sort of attack and needed help.
"I said, pull over!" was the gruff reply. At the first opportunity Jerry pulled his stretch limousine to the side of the road and turned around to see what he wanted.
Look," said the man to Jerry, wiping his forehead with his handkerchief, "I guess I got a little out of control. I mean, you probably don't like me very much do you?"
Jerry was silent.
"I know sometimes I get out of control. Sometimes even I can't quite believe some of the things I say and do. I'm sorry, I apologize. Okay? So I apologize. I guess you're a Jew just like me, right? It's just that…I'm so alone in the world. I've endured a lot. I'm going crazy. There are nights I think I just won't make it through…."
And then he broke down and cried.
"You think I'm an arrogant, wealthy American businessman," he gained some composure and said. "What I really am," he undid a cufflink and rolled up his shirtsleeve "is a Holocaust survivor." He held up his arm to show Jerry the numbers. 7…4…1…7.
"I lost my whole family in the concentration camp, everyone was killed except for me; mother, father, brothers sisters. I have no one in the world! Even G-d left me."
Jerry stared at the American in shock and whispered, "My dear friend, you are wrong. I know where number seven-four-one-six is! It's your brother. We worked together in a Kibbutz. He's very much alive…and I happen to know exactly where he can be found."
That very day was a reunion and a new beginning for at least two people that shook the heavens.
This explains our questions.
Amalek is not just a nation of murderous people. Rather he is within each of us. Every human, especially every Jew, is a microcosm containing the entire creation… and Amalek is there as well.
It is the urge within us to destroy everything decent, meaningful and good in life. Man was created in the 'image' of the Creator.. but Amalek embodies the opposite as did the Nazis in our story and as Yehuda's brother almost did.
Therefore we must constantly 'not forget' that often our biggest enemy can be our own urges and certainties.
But there is hope! The way to eliminate this negativity is by 'Remembering'. Namely to remember the Creator! To remember how near G-d is to us, how much He believes in us and will help us … as he helped the two brothers in our story.
True there are a lot of negative and horrendous things in the world but by 'remembering' the good and G-dliness which shines eternally, we destroy Amalek. Even a little light dispels much darkness.
That is the purpose of the teachings of the 'Baal Shem Tov' called Chassidut especially Chassidut Chabad; to destroy the Amalek within each of us.
It is in our power to bring blessing to the entire world. One more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and bring a good sweet new year with …..
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