Beit Midrash

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Why Does Amalek Appear When He Does?


Rabbi Moshe Erenreich

Our parasha tells of the attack of Canaanites from the Negev, who were actually Amalekis who disguised themselves as Canaanites to confuse Bnei Yisrael’s prayers (Bamidbar 21:1 with Rashi). The midrash (Esther Rabba 7) tells a story that occurred after Amalek’s descendant, Haman, publicized the decree to kill all the Jews. Mordechai asked three schoolchildren what they had just learned. Each one cited a pasuk that relayed the message that Hashem would save Bnei Yisrael from its enemies. This elated Mordechai, enabling him to tell Haman that he was no longer afraid that Haman’s plan would come to fruition.
The Gra asks why those p’sukim were unique; many p’sukim foretell Hashem’s saving of Bnei Yisrael. He answers that each hinted at a different episode of Amalek’s aggression. The first (Mishlei 3) refers to sudden fear, corresponding to Amalek’s first, surprise attack against our forefathers. The second (Yeshaya 8) hints at the story in our parasha, which included a tricky plot. The third (Yeshaya 46) says that Hashem will be with us even in His "old age," k’v’yachol. This corresponds to the time of Haman, where some enemies reasoned that Hashem was too old to protect us, as He was unable to prevent Nevuchadnetzar from destroying the Beit Hamikdash.
The above is in regard to identifying elements of each appearance of Amalek. However, there also is a unifying factor in regard to the reason that Amalek was able to threaten us at each time. The gemara (Sanhedrin 99b) points out that Amalek was a descendant of Timna, Elifaz’s concubine. She was a princess who sought to convert to Judaism but whom all the forefathers rejected. (Tosafot, Yevamot 109b derives from here that it is wrong to reject persistent candidates for conversion.) Conversion is a sign of a person’s awakening to recognize Hashem and desire to cling to Him by joining Bnei Yisrael. When Bnei Yisrael needed self-awakening, Timna’s descendant, Amalek, came as a corresponding punishment.
Amalek’s first appeared at Refidim, where Bnei Yisrael were compared to a child riding on his father’s shoulders. The father helped him in many ways, only to hear his son tell a stranger that he does not know where his father is. That lack of awareness beckons Amalek. In our parasha, Aharon had died and the special clouds lifted. They should have found new energy to meet the new challenges, but Amalek appeared instead. In Esther’s time, the "hidden Divine face," challenged Bnei Yisrael to reaffirm their commitment to the Torah without sounds and lightning. Again, the rejection of Timna served as a Satan to reflect the absence of necessary energy.
In our generations, on the verge of Bnei Yisrael’s liberation and renewal in its land, we have suffered Amalek-like attacks. May we respond with a strong ingathering of exiles that will ensure that we deserve full liberation.
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