It began at the end of last Shabbat’s Torah-reading:
“Amalek came, and fought with Israel in Rephidim” (Exodus 17:8).
Who exactly did Amalek attack?
– The Torah gives no indication here; just that he “fought with Israel”. Only forty years later, when commanding us to remember and not to forget this attack, do we get some hints as to who exactly he attacked:
“Remember what Amalek did to you when you were on your way out of Egypt – how he chanced upon you along the way and attacked you from the rear, all the weakest ones who were straggling behind, when you were tired and exhausted” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).
The entire nation was tired and exhausted, worn down by generations of slavery – and even of that enfeebled nation, Amalek dared attack only weakest, the stragglers who couldn’t keep up with the rest.
The Targum Yonatan tells us who those weak stragglers were:
“Amalek came…because of the quarrel that had been between Esau and Jacob, and attacked Israel in war in Rephidim; he took and killed men of the Tribe of Dan, whom the Clouds of Glory had rejected because of the idolatry that was in their midst” (Targum Yonatan, Exodus 27:8).
Why did Amalek attack the Children of Israel because of a quarrel between their ancestors (Amalek was descended from Esau, Israel from Jacob) a third of a millennium earlier?
Had he attacked the most religious of Jews, we might have understood: they were still following their ancestor Jacob’s ideology and faith, so Esau’s descendant Amalek might have claimed that he was continuing this ancient dispute.
But the idolaters of the Tribe of Dan?! They had rejected their ancestor Jacob’s ideology and faith, they were outside the Israelite Camp, the Clouds of Glory had spat them out – so what did Amalek have against them?
They are of the Children of Israel, that’s what. That was all. They were of the nation he hated and lusted to exterminate, so he didn’t care whether or not they believed in G-d, if they worshipped Him the way He had commanded. Amalek didn’t care that these people of Dan were idolaters, that the Clouds of Glory that rejected them.
All he knew was that they were numbered among the Children of Israel – and that was enough for him. He attacked them, determined to exterminate the entire Seed of Jacob.
And thus is it always.
90 years ago, 80 years ago, we heard and saw “their” slogans: “Juden raus” (Jews out!); “Die Juden sind unser Unglück” (the Jews are our misfortune); “Juda verrecke” (Judah Perish; but the German “verrecke” is a horribly vicious verb, connoting a slow, lingering, painful death: there is no English equivalent); “Juden sind hier unerwünscht!” (Jews are not welcome here!), and countless others like these.
And in the early years of the Third Reich, there were Jews who saw and heard these slogans, and comforted themselves with the delusion: They don’t mean us. They mean the Ostjuden, the Eastern Jews, the Jews from Poland and Hungary, the Jews who speak Yiddish, the Jews who embarrass us all by wearing kaftans and black hats, who hang out their tzitzit, who insist on clinging to outdated rituals, who only eat kosher, who keep Shabbat.
They don’t mean us, the good Jews, the Germanised and Austrianised Jews, the assimilated and secular Jews, the Jews who fought for the Vaterland in the Great War. They can’t mean us: we don’t even identify as Jews, we’re Deutsche Bürger Mosaischer Konfession, German citizens of the Mosaic faith!
No, no, no. When they say “Juden”, Jews – they mean Jews. All Jews. Not just the Ostjuden, not just the religious. They mean them all.
And quarter of a century ago we saw the identical delusion here in Israel. We had been hearing the battle-cries “itbach al-Yahood” (slaughter the Jews), “Yadfae il-Yahood la-il bahr” (drive the Jews into the sea), “Eleyhom!” (Lynch them!) and other similar slogans for as long as anyone could remember.
Then, too, there were Jews in Israel who saw and heard these slogans, and comforted themselves with the delusion: They don’t mean us. They mean the 'settlers', the Jews from the “wrong” side of the Green Line, the Jews who embarrass us all by wearing large crocheted kippot and who hang out their tzitzit, who insist on clinging to outdated rituals, who only eat kosher, who keep Shabbat, who live in places like Yitzhar and Hebron, Beit El and Sussia, and who harp on about our Biblical right to this Land.
They don’t mean us, the good Jews, the secular left-wing Jews of Tel Aviv and Ramat Aviv Gimmel and Tzahala, the Jews who fought for Palestinian Arab rights, who march against the occupation. They can’t mean us: we don’t even identify as Jews, we’re Israelis, brothers of our Arab fellow-Israelis!
No, no, no. When they say “Yahood”, Jews – they mean Jews. All Jews. Not just the “settlers”, not just the religious, not just the “bad” Jews who identify with Jews throughout the world regardless of citizenship, instead of with all Israelis regardless of religion. They mean all Jews.
Indeed the suicide terrorists struck, over and over again, at the heart of secular left Israeli society: Hadera, Dizengoff Centre, the Dolphinarium discotheque, the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station…the list is too long and too depressing to continue.
And on Shabbat, as we were reading of Amalek’s attack on the Jews in the desert in Rephidim, another Jew-hater attacked Congregation Beth Israel, the Reform house of worship in Colleyville, Texas.
It mattered not to Malik Feisal Akram that Congregation Beth Israel is a Reform congregation, which rejects authentic Judaism. No doubt he neither knew nor cared that the spiritual leader of this Congregation, Charlie Cytron-Walker, has lobbied in the past for the USA to admit more refugees, specifically refugees from the Arab world, and that he has condemned Israel and its policies towards the Arabs.
Why did Malik Feisal Akram attack this Reform House of Worship because of a quarrel thousands of miles away?
Had he attacked the most religious of Jews, we might have understood: they are still following their ancestor Jacob’s ideology and faith, they remain (for the overwhelming majority) loyal to Israel, they feel a deep affinity with Israel, so he could have claimed that they are party to this dispute.
But a Reform Temple whose spiritual leader condemns Israel?! What in the world does Malik Feisal Akram have against them?
They are of the Jewish nation, that’s what. That’s all. They are of the nation he hated and lusted to exterminate, so he didn’t care what their beliefs and practices may be."
This coming Shabbat, in Parashat Yitro, we will read how G-d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai.
What does the name “Sinai” mean? What does it connote?
– It was called סִינַי, Sinai, because it was from there that the nations’ שִׂנְאָה, sin’ah (hatred) descended into the world (Shabbat 89a, Shemot Rabbah 2:4).
We, the Children of Israel, need the Torah for our identity.
Those who hate us don’t. They don’t need us to believe in the Torah, or to identify with our nation, to hate us and want to murder us all.
Whether they call us Jews, or Juden, or Yahood, or Yevrei, or Zhid, or zsidók, or Zionists, or Vaterlandslose Gesellen (loiterers without any fatherland), or bezrodnyi kosmopolit (rootless cosmopolitans), or any other title or epithet or code-name, or even simply ((((them)))) –
– Jew-haters will target us all. Religious or secular, left-wing or right-wing, Zionist or non-Zionist or anti-Zionist, whether in Israel or Germany or the USA or Iraq or anywhere else in the world, it will make no difference.
From Rephidim to Colleyville via Rome and Europe and Arabia and anywhere else in between, Jew-haters have always and will always target us all.
Never fall into the trap of believing that you can avoid their hate by assimilating, or by broadcasting your hostility to Israel, or by standing in solidarity with Israel’s enemies, or by demonstrating your generosity to the world’s refugees.
Your protection will come solely from the G-d Who created humanity, Who gave us His Torah, Who decreed the nations’ hate – and Who decrees our safety as long as we are loyal to His Torah.
Daniel Pinner is a veteran immigrant from England, a teacher by profession and a Torah scholar who has been active in causes promoting Eretz Israel and Torat Israel.