Ethical Issues in the Historical Books of Tanach;
JOSHUA, JUDGES, SAMUEL, KINGS (Nevi’im Rishonim)
books ostensibly are merely the history of Israel from the entry into the
Promised Land until the destruction of the Temple and the temporary loss
of independent statehood. In fact they are actually, in a specifically
Jewish sense, the most deeply religious and spiritual books of the Bible.
One does not have to be specifically Jewish to see or feel the religion
and spirituality in the revelations of the prophetic writings or in the
words of the Tehillim. They speak to all people, as evidenced by the fact
that the Bible is still the world's bestseller and there are millions of
non-Jews who regularly recite the Psalms. However, it is specifically and
intrinsically Jewish to understand that G-d is revealed in the prosaic
material, in the political, social and military events in the lives of
ordinary men and women, kings and leaders that are described in the Nevim
Rishonim. Here are described the ideology and religious thoughts in
Judaism, while in Chronicles we have the purely historical.
War against Amalek is one of the reasons for Jewish kingship and always precedes the building of the Temple. In the desert before building the Mishkan, the wars of Saul and David before Solomon's Temple, and Purim preceded the building of the second Temple. The king unified the people socially while the Bet HaMikdash unified their Divine worship so they were an antidote to Amalek who separated between Israel and G-d Whose throne is incomplete as long as Amalek exists, but also separated Jew from Jew. He attacked the stragglers (Deut. 25:18). The Admor of Chabad saw the attack as punishment for a Jewish community having stragglers, while Rashi sees it as a warning against the sin that divides a community, of false weights and measures in business. S.R. Hirsch sees 'karkhah - who chanced upon you' used in same verse describing Amalek's attack, the essence of Amalek's teaching that there is no such thing as Divine intervention in human affairs and history, only random chance and accident. Abarbanel and the Malbim both see Amalek as guilty of crimes against humanity since war and bloodshed was their only purpose and pleasure. Israel was no threat to them, to their territory nor to that of any of their allies. Even looting or plundering wasn't their purpose. Any of these may have been seen as a justification for the attack, without them the attack itself was their only pleasure, like the snake who has no benefit from the poison it injects.
Perhaps, the spiritual and moral dimensions of Amalek in contrast to Judaism, the nature of their war against us and thus the enormity of Saul's failure to kill Agag their king, will become clearer when we remember his genealogy.
Amalek was the grandson of Esau the twin brother of Jacob, and so a direct descendant of the Patriarchs Abraham and Isaac; Torah is 'Reishit', Israel is 'Reishit' and Amalek is 'Reishit goyim' - first among the nations. Both Esau and Amalek had inherited the Abrahamic family's spiritual drives and their intoxication with Heavenly matters. Like Jacob they too desired a connection with the Divine and spoke words of spirituality. However, while Jacob desired to elevate and spiritualize the Earthly and the mundane, they wished to debase the Heavens and to reduce it to the most base and gross elements. Amalek, from the word 'akalkal - contorted', sought to distort and to corrupt all that was moral and pious in Mankind.
Esau kept his hatred for Jacob hidden in his heart and his descendant Amalek crept up on us in stealth - vayezanev. Haman, descendant of the king Agag of Amalek, disguises his hatred beneath a mask of concern for all the persecuted citizens who are at the mercy of Israel who do not keep the laws of Achashverosh. Esau was like the chazir (pig) who sleeps with his cloven hoof out-stretched so all can this sign of kashrut, while his mouth is kept closed, hiding the fact that he does not chew the cud. With him and his descendants, all is deceit and concealment. Esau and Jacob are twins, like the grapes grown on one vine, but when the grapes are put to the press, from some we get wine and from some only vinegar; Esau the perverted twin and his heir Amalek, are the vinegar of Jacob's wine.
"We can believe the saying that, "Caesariah [the seat of Roman rule over Eretz Yisrael] ascends and Jerusalem descends, [or vice versa]"; we cannot believe that they ascend or descend together" (Talmud, Megila 6a). Rome, a rabbinic pseudonym for Edom or his descendant Amalek, cannot be in equilibrium with Jerusalem but there is an eternal war between them since, "There is war between G-d and Amalek from generation to generation" (Exodus 17:16).
Other nations stood in awe of G-d's power and of His intervention in history as shown by the redemption from Egypt, but Amalek stands in awe only of his spiritual conflict with G-d and with Israel, so Amalek is the first to attack the nation taken out of bondage by Hashem. To reject the liberation of enslaved people, to oppose the elevation of mankind through a divinely revealed message and through the nation living according to that message, and to venerate only the physical power and material appetites, this is the war of Amalek. His descendants persecute Israel, try to destroy him and burn his body, his synagogues and study houses, and his books, because Israel's very existence threatens the world outlook of Esau and Amalek.
Only when they will serve the younger brother so that they acknowledge Jacob's Torah can the twins become one. Our sages saw the grandsons of Haman the Agagite, studying in the academies of Bnei Brak.
This is the fifteenth installment in Dr. Tamari’s series on “Tanach and its messages for our times”