Driving past the Tree of Life building recently, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the heinous act of terrorism that occurred just a few years ago. An act of a godless person, driven by a baseless hatred toward the Jewish people, exposed the presence of evil in our own backyard. He attacked the innocent and the defenseless and in the process killed 11 lovely souls (may their memories be for a blessing).
Some people would like him to receive the death penalty. Others, like me, choose to “blot” out his name and focus on Gemilut Hasadim — acts of loving kindness — in order to honor and cherish the lives and memories of those we lost.
This week in the haftarah for Shabbat Zachor, the prophet Samuel orders King Saul to “attack Amalek and to spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen, sheep, camels and asses.” (I Samuel 15:3)
Amalek was another godless person who, according to some rabbis, did not follow the norms of war by attacking a defenseless bunch of former slaves on the road, just for the sake of attacking them. He had little to gain — it was an act seemingly motivated by hatred. Amalek attacked the stragglers, the weak, the women and children and those with disabilities who were lagging behind. King Saul was commanded to wipe out Amalek.
Maimonides is among those who say that Amalek, as a people, still exists, and we are still commanded to remember their deeds and destroy them.
I was always uncomfortable with these commandments to kill an entire people. There were other commentators who were also uncomfortable with these commandments. The Zohar says that Amalek is Satan; other sources, though, say we are commanded to blot out Satan or the yetzer hara, but not the actual people Amalek.
It is worthwhile to note that the commandment to blot out Amalek is omitted by Rabbi Yakov ben Asher in his halachic code the Tur, and by Rabbi Yosef Karo in the Shulchan Aruch.
Some rabbis claim that Amalek no longer exists.
Evil clearly exists and along with that are “Amalek”-type people who are evil. There are people — far too many — who continue to attack the stragglers, the weak, those with disabilities and others. Their motivation is often a baseless hatred. We must stand up for the weak, protect the stragglers and provide for those who are in need. There are evil people who are godless and exist in every generation.
I agree with Professor Rabbi David Golinken that the lesson we learn from Shabbat Zachor “is not to hate certain groups” but to protect and defend the weak and the stragglers and to provide for the downtrodden and needy.
I will continue to do so in order to honor those cherished friends who lost their lives on that horrific Shabbat morning. I hope you will as well.
Shabbat Shalom. PJC
Rabbi Chuck Diamond is rabbi of Kehillah La La.