Ancient war
Ancient wariStock

In this week's Parshah, the open war with the ancient arch-enemy of the Jewish People, Amaleik, begins. The Possuk states [Shemot, 16’ 8’-13’]:

וַיָּבֹ֖א עֲמָלֵ֑ק וַיִּלָּ֥חֶם עִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בִּרְפִידִֽם׃

Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֤ה אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֙עַ֙ בְּחַר־לָ֣נוּ אֲנָשִׁ֔ים וְצֵ֖א הִלָּחֵ֣ם בַּעֲמָלֵ֑ק מָחָ֗ר אָנֹכִ֤י נִצָּב֙ עַל־רֹ֣אשׁ הַגִּבְעָ֔ה וּמַטֵּ֥ה הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים בְּיָדִֽי׃

Moses said to Joshua, “Pick some troops for us, and go out and do battle with Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill, with the rod of God in my hand.”

וַיַּ֣עַשׂ יְהוֹשֻׁ֗עַ כַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר אָֽמַר־לוֹ֙ מֹשֶׁ֔ה לְהִלָּחֵ֖ם בַּעֲמָלֵ֑ק וּמֹשֶׁה֙ אַהֲרֹ֣ן וְח֔וּר עָל֖וּ רֹ֥אשׁ הַגִּבְעָֽה׃

Joshua did as Moses told him and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.

וְהָיָ֗ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר יָרִ֥ים מֹשֶׁ֛ה יָד֖וֹ וְגָבַ֣ר יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְכַאֲשֶׁ֥ר יָנִ֛יחַ יָד֖וֹ וְגָבַ֥ר עֲמָלֵֽק׃

Then, whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; but whenever he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.

וִידֵ֤י מֹשֶׁה֙ כְּבֵדִ֔ים וַיִּקְחוּ־אֶ֛בֶן וַיָּשִׂ֥ימוּ תַחְתָּ֖יו וַיֵּ֣שֶׁב עָלֶ֑יהָ וְאַהֲרֹ֨ן וְח֜וּר תָּֽמְכ֣וּ בְיָדָ֗יו מִזֶּ֤ה אֶחָד֙ וּמִזֶּ֣ה אֶחָ֔ד וַיְהִ֥י יָדָ֛יו אֱמוּנָ֖ה עַד־בֹּ֥א הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ׃

But Moses’ hands grew heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur, one on each side, supported his hands; thus his hands remained steady until the sun set.

וַיַּחֲלֹ֧שׁ יְהוֹשֻׁ֛עַ אֶת־עֲמָלֵ֥ק וְאֶת־עַמּ֖וֹ לְפִי־חָֽרֶב׃ {פ}

And Joshua overwhelmed the people of Amalek with the sword.

The Torah does not clarify explicitly why Amaleik came to do battle; Rashi [ad. loc.] writes that in the preceding Pesukim, the Jews expressed a level of doubt as to G-d’s presence in their midst, and therefore Amaleik’s instigation was designed to show what can happen without G-d’s benevolence [חס ושלום].

In a deeper vein, the commentary “Moshav Zekeinim” [written around the year 1300 C.E.] offers that the word “Amalek\עמלק”, in its Hebrew form, can be an acronym for the names:

ע''מרם, מ''שה, ל''וי, ק''הת.

These are the four personalities of the tribe of Levi [including Levi himself], up until Moshe Rabbeinu, who was the greatest Jewish Prophet to ever exist, as well as the intermediary through which G-d gave us the Torah. The Pesukim above make clear that Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayer played the decisive role in the victory against Amalek; it is apparent that the battle against Amalek was waged primarily against the holy forces of Torah that Moshe Rabbeinu would bring to the world. [Much later on, Amalek’s descendant Haman would deliberately choose the month in which Moshe Rabbeinu died to launch his plan of exterminating the Jews–that plan would spectacularly fail through the hand of G-d, and would result in the Purim miracle. What is germane to our point is that Haman again chose to follow his ancestor’s way and focus his battle primarily against the spiritual legacy of Moshe Rabbeinu].

The Moshav Zekeinim offers an allusion to this idea, as the Possuk states in Bamidbar 24’ 20’:

וַיַּרְא֙ אֶת־עֲמָלֵ֔ק וַיִּשָּׂ֥א מְשָׁל֖וֹ וַיֹּאמַ֑ר רֵאשִׁ֤ית גּוֹיִם֙ עֲמָלֵ֔ק וְאַחֲרִית֖וֹ עֲדֵ֥י אֹבֵֽד׃

He [Bilaam] saw Amalek and, taking up his parable, he said:

Amalek is first of the Nations;

But its fate is to perish forever.

Bilaam was chosen to curse the Jews; however, as is well known, G-d put words of blessing in his mouth, and all of his intended curses turned into blessings. What is not as well known, however, is that Bilaam also lays out visions of the endings of some of the prominent nations, amongst whom is Amalek. The above Possuk refers, in its simplest sense, to the prominence of Amalek, which, although it appears to be quite daunting, will ultimately prove to be transient and temporary.

Moshav Zekeinim explains, that in a deeper sense, the Possuk can actually be referring to the allusion presented by the acronym detailed above, as the words “ראשית גוים עמלק\Amalek is FIRST of the Nations,” can be interpreted as alluding to the letters of his name being the FIRST letters of the tribe of Levi and his descendants up until Moshe Rabbeinu.

Moshav Zekeinim explains further along these mystical lines, that although Amalek would seem to dominate based on the first letters of the names of Moshe Rabbeinu and his ancestors, the ENDING letters of their names also alludes to the destiny of Amalek, which is to be totally and completely exterminated, as the Possuk states above “ואחריתו עדי אבד\ But its ENDING is to be exterminated forever.”

This allusion is accomplished when viewing the names in the following fashion:

עמר’’ם לו’’י קה’’ת מש’’ה

In this iteration, the end letters spell the word “מיתה\death,” hence Amalek’s destiny is to be “עדי אבד\gone forever.”

The above would seem to indicate that ultimately, the entire bloodline of Amalek would be wiped out. The Gemara, however, writes [Sanhedrin 96B]:

תנו רבנן נעמן גר תושב היה נבוזר אדן גר צדק היה מבני בניו של סיסרא למדו תורה בירושלים מבני בניו של סנחריב לימדו תורה ברבים ומאן נינהו שמעיה ואבטליון

The Sages taught in a baraita: Naaman the Aramean (see II Kings, chapter 5) was a ger toshav, meaning that he accepted upon himself to refrain from idol worship but did not convert to Judaism. Nebuzaradan was a completely righteous convert. Among the descendants of Sisera (see Judges, chapter 4) were those who studied Torah in Jerusalem. Among the descendants of Sennacherib were those who taught Torah in public. The Gemara asks: And who are they? The Gemara answers: They were Shemaya and Avtalyon.

מבני בניו של המן למדו תורה בבני ברק

The baraita continues: Among the descendants of Haman were those who studied Torah in Bnei Brak.

Clearly, Haman had descendants who were full fledged Jews, and achieved positions of great prominence! Apparently, the idea of the extinction of the nation of Amaleik would also allow for them to convert and lose their identity as Amalekites. [See the Pesach Einayim of the Chida in Sanhedrin Ad. Loc. for a detailed analysis of this idea]. According to many Kabbalists, the descendants of Haman referenced here as teaching Torah in Bnei Brak actually refers to Rabbi Akiva and his bloodline.

Perhaps, on an extremely deep level, we can offer a new twist to this story. The Gemara comments in Sanhedrin 99B:

בעיא לאיגיורי באתה אצל אברהם יצחק ויעקב ולא קבלוה הלכה והיתה פילגש לאליפז בן עשו אמרה מוטב תהא שפחה לאומה זו ולא תהא גבירה לאומה אחרת נפק מינה עמלק דצערינהו לישראל מאי טעמא דלא איבעי להו לרחקה

Timna sought to convert. She came before Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and they did not accept her. She went and became a concubine of Eliphaz, son of Esau, and said, referring to herself: It is preferable that she will be a maidservant for this nation, and she will not be a noblewoman for another nation. Ultimately, Amalek, son of Eliphaz, emerged from her, and that tribe afflicted the Jewish people. What is the reason that the Jewish people were punished by suffering at the hand of Amalek? It is due to the fact that they should not have rejected her when she sought to convert.

Explicitly, Timna was an extremely dedicated woman, who by rights should have been accepted as a convert by the Patriarchs of the Jewish people. [It is not clear what their rationale was for not accepting her conversion {see the Haghaos Yavet”z ad. loc. for an analysis of this issue}]. Her passion for the Abrahmitic legacy was so strong, that she even acquiesced to become the concubine of Esav, in order to achieve whatever tangential connection to the Patriarchs she could. This supreme dedication would later bear itself out with her descendant, who would become one of the greatest Talmudic Scholars ever, Rabbi Akiva.

Rabbi Akiva was so immersed in Torah study, that even Roman decrees and penalties associated with the study of Torah could not stop his overpowering passion for the pursuit of the wisdom of the Torah.

Ultimately, Rabbi Akiva died a martyr’s death, in a fashion that would sanctify G-d’s name for eternity, as the Gemara writes [Berachot 61B]:

The Gemara relates: When they took Rabbi Akiva out to be executed, it was time for the recitation of Shema. And they were raking his flesh with iron combs, and he was reciting Shema, thereby accepting upon himself the yoke of Heaven. His students said to him: Our teacher, even now, as you suffer, you recite Shema? He said to them: All my days I have been troubled by the verse: With all your soul, meaning: Even if God takes your soul. I said to myself: When will the opportunity be afforded me to fulfill this verse? Now that it has been afforded me, shall I not fulfill it? He prolonged his uttering of the word: One, until his soul left his body as he uttered his final word: One. A voice descended from heaven and said: Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, that your soul left your body as you uttered: One.

The ministering angels said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: This is Torah and this its reward?

God said the end of the verse to the ministering angels: “Whose portion is in this life.” And then a Divine Voice emerged and said: Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, as you are destined for life in the World-to-Come, as your portion is already in eternal life.

Amalek was destined to be wiped out of existence; however, Timna, Amalek’s ancestor, had righteous intentions, and was rewarded with a descendant who would accomplish wondrous things as a Torah scholar. Amalek’s ending was to be “מיתה\death”-- a total and complete obliteration of his legacy from all of humanity. It is most ironic, that Rabbi Akiva chose to experience death in one of the most barbaric ways imaginable, and yet, unlike his ancestor, Amalek, whose death would be for eternity, G-d promises Rabbi Akiva, at the moment of his execution:

“Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, as you are destined for life in the World-to-Come, as your portion is already in eternal life.”

May Rabbi Akiva and his legacy be a merit for all Jews who have lost their lives tragically and על קידוש השם, through Sanctifying G-d’s name, most recently on October 7th, and may we merit to see the completed redemption speedily in our days.