Removing all Traces of Amalek - A Source of Elevation for Israel
G-d ordered King Saul to wipe out the descendants of Amalek from off the face of the earth, as it is written, “So said the L-RD, Master of Legions: ‘I have remembered what Amalek did to Israel – [the ambush] he emplaced against him on the way, as he went up from Egypt. Now go and strike down Amalek and destroy everything he has” (I Samuel 15:2:3). Thus the annihilation of Amalek comprises one of the three mitzvot that the Eternal commanded the Children of Israel for their entry into the Holy Land (Sanhedrin 20b).
Commenting on the verse that states, “Saul said to the Kenite, ‘Go, withdraw, descend from among the Amalekite, lest I destroy you with them’ ” (I Samuel 15:6), the Zohar asks why the Holy One, blessed be He, was so merciless with regards to Amalek, even more so than with any other nation (Zohar II:194b). Rabbi Chiya responds: “Because the battle with Amalek took place from above to below and on every side.” Exactly what does this mean?
Everyone should constantly connect themselves to G-d, on every side, from above and below; this resembles “A ladder [that] was set earthward and its top reached heavenward” (Genesis 28:12). This is done in order to bind the supernal world with the lower world, so that the Eternal may “dwell in the midst of both” (see Exodus 25:8).
Following the example of Egypt, all the nations acted only with hate in regards to the Children of Israel. Yet they didn’t try to distance them from their faith in G-d. Amalek, on the other hand, tried to completely distance the Children of Israel from G-d, as much in the supernal world as in the lower one. At their departure from Egypt, they yearned with fervor to purify themselves from all their spiritual blemishes. They engaged themselves in the study of Torah, even while on route, as it is written, “you will speak of them [Torah matters] … while you walk on the way” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Yet just as someone who wants to cool the waters of a hot bath (Tanhuma, Ki Tisa 9), Amalek came to chill their enthusiasm and to make them cross over the threshold of the fiftieth gate of impurity. He wanted to make them descend from the spiritual levels that they had ascended upon leaving Egypt and to prevent them from receiving the Torah. Over the course of the generations, there was thus never a worse enemy for the Jews than Amalek. His hatred for our nation has never been equaled in the history of humanity.
Amalek’s brazenness stunned and chilled all the nations that considered his actions as tantamount to an all-out war not only against the Holy One, blessed be He (and His Shechinah), but also against Israel. Amalek had not understood that he couldn’t triumph over them. He even ignored the fact that a powerful nation such as Egypt wasn’t able to defeat them. The workings of the Satan succeeded nevertheless: The Children of Israel were terrified by him and began to abstain from Torah study. The forces of evil thus managed to defeat them in the supernal and lower worlds. Amalek, the descendant of Esau, knew perfectly well that as long as the voice of Jacob was not heard in the synagogues and yeshivas, he would triumph, as it is written, “when you are aggrieved, you may cast off his yoke from upon your neck” (Genesis 27:40).
The Eternal therefore ordered Saul to annihilate all the descendants of Amalek, who chilled the enthusiasm of the Divine service, spiritually weakened the Children of Israel, and brought forth accusations both in the supernal and lower worlds. Amalek’s fate is the fate of all those who follow in his footsteps, such as the Greeks, Haman, etc. For instead of encouraging them to engage in the study of Torah, he made them commit sins and prevented shefa (abundance, both spiritual and material) from descending into the world. If fact, in a manner of speaking, he prevented the Kingdom of G-d from descending into the world as well. Amalek and his group aimed at wiping out the creation of the Holy One, blessed be He. Thus His Name and His Throne will not attain perfection until all traces of Amalek are erased (Tanhuma, Ki Tisa, end). The Kingdom of G-d will then spread out and nothing, neither in the supernal nor lower worlds, will hinder Israel’s Redemption.
Having temporarily refrained from Torah study, the Children of Israel were attacked by Amalek and strengthened the power of the Kelipah. Moses then said to Joshua, “ ‘Choose men for us’ [Exodus 17:9] – ‘courageous and devout’ [Mechilta and Rashi] – who are not afraid of Amalek’s Kelipah. I will fight him from above, and you from below, and we will triumph over him.” However Saul did not act in this way, and that is why he was dethroned.
It is this that we recall on Shabbat Zachor, and all throughout the year. We see to it that we take the battle to Amalek and that we triumph over him in the upper and lower worlds. Shabbat, which constitutes a foretaste of the world to come, is a particularly appropriate time to destroy the serpent and the forces of evil. We must never forget what Amalek did to us when we left Egypt (see Deuteronomy 25:17).
“Then Esther summoned … one of the king’s chamberlains … and ordered him to go to Mordechai, to learn what this was about and why” (Esther 4:5). Esther wanted to know if accusations had been brought against Israel in the upper and lower worlds. Mordechai then told her what had happened (v.7), and even in fact that the death sentence had been pronounced against the Jews (on high as well as below) who had rejoiced in Ahasuerus’ banquet and had prostrated themselves in front of an idol (Megillah 12a), and who had seen the vessels of the Holy Temple in their splendor without lamenting over them. Instead of crying over the Temple’s destruction and the fact that its vessels were in Babylon since then, they rejoiced with the gentiles. Their religious observance had also grown cold, as during the time of Amalek. Esther then said to Mordechai, “Go, assemble all the Jews that are to be found in Shushan” (Esther 4:16). This is what Mordechai did, who assembled children in yeshivas to study Torah (Esther Rabba 9:5) in order to correct their remoteness from it. Thus when we remember throughout the years, and in particular on Shabbat Zachor, these events in our history, we push ourselves to repair spiritual blemishes and to engage in the diligent study of Torah. These awakenings, below and above, eliminate all strict judgments and even bring redemption closer, as was the case during Mordechai’s and Esther’s era.
Even though the miracle was essentially due to Esther, her name is always preceded by that of Mordechai, who was the first to become aware of the accusations brought against the Children of Israel in the upper and lower worlds, and who preceded the rectifying punishment by refusing to bend the knee and prostrate himself before Haman (Esther 3:2), which is to say, before the descendant of Amalek and the forces of evil. On the other hand, Esther, who didn’t know what attitude to adopt, was content to ask what this was all about and from where it originated.
Haman therefore hurried to prepare gallows from which to hang Mordechai. He did not want to wait for the death of the other Jews in order to kill him because Haman knew that Mordechai had knowledge of the formidable secrets of Kabbalah in order to eliminate all the accusations brought against the Jews in the upper and lower worlds. Yet he did not succeed, for it was precisely on that night that the king could not sleep (Ibid. 6:1). The Talmud reports that Mordechai could also not sleep that night (see Esther Rabba 10:1). In the book of records, it was found that Mordechai had saved Ahasuerus from certain death. Finally, it was Haman who was hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordechai (Esther 10:2), and the accusations against the Jews were abolished. They passed from darkness to light and were delivered from their oppressors. The Eternal therefore commanded that we remember what was done to us by Amalek, who wanted the kingdom of evil to dominate the world, and who was opposed to G-d’s Name being complete. He commanded us to remember “from generation to generation,” which is to say, from that of Moses to that of Saul, and from that of Mordechai to that of our Redeemer (Rashi).
Haman was therefore hanged during the month of Nissan, more specifically on the day after Passover. He was hanged on a tree – the gallows – to show all the generations what happens to one who attacks the tree of life (which is the Torah), and what happens to these who uphold it (Proverbs 3:18).
It not being enough to just recall this event, Mordechai prescribed that these days be made ones of feasting and rejoicing, ones during which we send food to one another, and during which we distribute gifts to the poor (Esther 9:22). In demonstrating kindness towards the poor, we recall that which the Holy One, blessed be He, did by saving us from the accusations which the serpent brought against us in the upper and lower worlds. Moreover, We should note with regards to this that the Kelipah bears the name anyah (poor) (see Zohar I:13a; III:273b). It draws its sustenance only in the remnants of holiness, like a dog that licks the scraps of its master (ibid. III:197a). Thus in occupying oneself with the ani, the poor, one weakens the power of the anyah, the Kelipah, and by this one strengthens the power of holiness in the world.