Parshas Ki Teitzei: Amalek, Assimilation and Remembrance

Parshas Ki Teitzei contains an extraordinarily large number of mitzvot: seventy-four, to be precise. These mitzvot deal with a wide range of subjects. Marriage is a recurrent theme; so is charity. But the last of these seventy-four mitzvot deal with Amalek. Amalek was probably Israel’s most violent and bloodthirsty enemy. As we read in this week’s Parsha, “he met you by the way, and cut off all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary”. This suggests that Amalek didn’t care for honour, or morality; he attacked the Israelites when they were at their weakest, and deliberately zeroed in on the “stragglers”, those who had the least chance of defending themself.

The Parsha goes on to say, “And he did not fear G‑d”. This is another of Amalek’s serious crimes. He had no respect or regard for G-d; for the One who created him. When the faithful act righteously, they normally do it for two reasons. Either out of intense love for their Creator, or intense fear of Him. When either of these are lacking, one becomes either uninspired or undisciplined. In Amalek, both were lacking. As such, he neither revered the Israelite’s as G-d’s people, nor did he fear G-d’s reaction were he to attack them. And so, Amalek acted in a vile and repulsive manner, launching a cruel attach on the children of Israel.

Amalek is still here, among us today. As Moshe Rabbenu said, G-d is at war with Amalek in every generation. This also means that Amalek is present in this and every generation. Perhaps it is not immediately obvious where he is present. But Amalek takes upon many forms. One obvious representation of Amalek is assimilation. When the Jews are at their weariest, their weakest, the forces of assimilation in the West attack them. They cut them off. These assimilated Jews feel faint, weary and alone; they need something to cling to. And Amalek- the Western, assimilated lifestyle- seems like the most obvious choice.

Following on from this analogy, it is perhaps unsurprising to find out exactly what the antidote for Amalek’s wickedness is. It is remembrance. Zachor. For it is through remembering the miracles G-d performed that we protect ourselves from assimilation. It is through remembering the Torah’s laws that we realise that, in fact, we do not need to pursue an assimilated lifestyle. By remembering the Exodus, the Torah, the miracles, we draw closer to G-d and defeat Amalek.

We need faith to survive. And we also need remembrance. As time moves on, fashionable and acceptable opinions change. But the Torah is unchanging. Immovable. It will never go away. And that’s why it’s so important. As we read in Ki Teitzei, “You shall not forget”!

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