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A Message from Rabbi Spalter

Amalek Then and Now

This Shabbos, known as Shabbat Zachor, Jews in synagogues around the world will read a special additional Torah reading. We will read about the commandment to erase the memory of Amalek. Amalek was the nation who attacked the Jewish People after they crossed the sea of reeds following the Exodus from Egypt. Amalek was not the first or the last to inflict harm on the Jewish people. Yet we are commanded to erase the memory of specifically this one nation, not Egypt, Edom, Moav, Midian, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece etc. all of whom attacked and fought the Jewish people. What was so unique about Amalek that so angered G-d to the point where He considers their existence an affront to Him and His name?

Our Sages explain it this way: The Exodus and the crossing of the sea were watershed events in world history. The miracles associated with the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea were a magnificent display of G-d’s love for the Jewish people. The Torah tells us that following these miracles and the downfall of Egypt, “All the dwellers of Canaan trembled and their hearts melted in fear of the Jewish People”. Everyone was scared of the Jewish People. They simply would not consider getting close, let alone attack or go to war against the Jews. “Anti-Semitism” became unpopular. The nations all respected the Jewish people and understood that G-d was on their side and the idea of going to war against the Jews was unthinkable. That all changed with Amalek. They were the first to attack and show the world that the Jews are not untouchable. The Amalekites were defeated but the “can of worms” was opened and Anti-Jewish sentiment was once again fashionable. It was Amalek who “cooled” off the nations who were too afraid to get close to the Jews for fear of getting “burned” like the Egyptians and their leader Pharaoh.

On the Shabbat before Purim we read about Amalek and of the Mitzvah to remember what Amalek did.  [Haman of the Purim story was a descendent of Amalek]. As I always tell my congregants, the Torah is not some ancient book with stories of the past. The Torah and everything in it must be relevant to our daily lives even in 2019 and every line, verse and chapter has morals and lessons for our daily lives. The story of Amalek is no exception. The nation of Amalek may not be here physically anymore but boy-o-boy is the idea of Amalek still, sadly, alive and well, and it seems made its way into our House of Representatives. Over the past couple of months, we continue to hear from some freshmen members of the House statements about Jews that we thought were long gone from the lexicon and thought process of decent people, especially from people who serve in the government of the most enlightened and decent country on earth. Rep. Ilhan Omar keeps reminding us that anti-Semitism is a consistent current that flows throughout history. Rep. Omar is bothered by the “power of Jews to hypnotize the world” or “their money controlling American policy” or “their allegiance to a foreign country”. She, like every anti-Semite before her, cannot make up her mind why she hates us. We are too powerful, too powerless, too capitalist, too socialist, too controlling, too different, too whatever. The excuse changes but the hatred does not. What is so concerning about her and her ilk is that if this goes unchecked I fear this can become more and more accepted thinking and worst of all, it can begin to shape policy. She and a few others are now the ‘proud’ representatives of the BDS movement in congress. Who knows where this ends.

After World War II anti-Semitism became unfashionable. Even Germany passed laws which protected Jews against anti-Semitism and punished those who were of that mind set. To be sure, there still were many anti-Semites, but they were out laws, out casts and no one to be taken serious. It seemed that the world and its governments had learned the lessons of Hitler and what happens when such people are allowed to come to power. For 70 years many nations, especially the United States were on the lookout and protected Israel and Jews from the ills of bad people who still harbored anti-Jewish sentiment. But like back then in the days of Moses, there is always an ‘Amalek’ who is ready to make Jewish Hatred fashionable again. What makes Rep. Ilhan Omar and co. so dangerous is the fact that she is not the KKK or Neo-Nazis etc. who are seen for what they are and are not taken seriously by anyone. Her hatred of Jews is explained away; ‘She did not mean this’ and ‘she did not mean that’ and slowly but surely the ugly heads of other anti-Semites, who know exactly what she means, are able to feed off of her and her status as a member of congress. I have no illusions that she will change her ways, but I do hope the leadership in congress will grab a hold of itself and stop this this cancer from spreading and will “erase the memory of Amalek” from its committees, from any influence and hopefully very soon from congress itself.

Here is the good news; the Haman’s of the world have tried to destroy the Jewish people and their homeland many times in the past and with the help of G-d we have always been victorious. I have no doubt that Israel and the Jewish people will triumph once again over our modern day Haman and we will be blessed with a joyous Purim and a joyous eternity.

Shabbat Shalom and a very Happy Purim to all.

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