Too many questions, too few answers

Let’s talk about Amalek, the prototypical enemy of the Jewish people. We meet his tribe for the first time in this week’s Torah portion, B’shalach. In this portion, we cross the Sea of Reeds and obtain our first taste of freedom. But then the grumbling begins. The freed slaves and the mixed multitude quickly grow nostalgic of the routine in Egypt, despite how terrible that day-to-day experience must have been. And for the first time, we learn about the importance of Shabbat, a day we are to devote to rest.
And then – the arrival of Amalek. This tribe attacks our rear guard (as described later in Deuteronomy, chapter 25), where we are the weakest. Since that initial attack after our Exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people have repeatedly compared nearly all our enemies to Amalek. With this long historical memory, we can easily call Hamas the modern-day Amalekites for how they attacked vulnerable Israelis on Oct. 7, murdered innocents and carried others into captivity.
And yet, look at how quickly local, national and world opinion has turned against the Israelis. In the eyes of too many people, the Israelis have become Amalekites. The oppressed has become the oppressor – even to the extent of charges of genocide against the Palestinians.
How can we wrap our minds around such accusations? For me, this does not compute. The world has turned upside down. I continue to be shocked and dismayed that too many people around the world are not comfortable when Jews (in this case Israelis) at last have power and decide to use it. Granted, we can discuss the nature or to what extent Israel needs to use its power … but equating current military actions to genocide? That’s going too far.
Let’s return to how the Jewish people have viewed the Amalekites through the centuries. Since they were our first enemy after liberation from Egyptian slavery, they are stamped in our collective memory as the prototype of those who want to destroy us. For example, in the story of Purim, Haman, who wanted to exterminate the Persian Jews, is described as a descendant of Agag, king of Amalek. The story of Purim is most likely pure fiction. Documented as sinister, cold-hearted fact are the horrific events of the Holocaust. For this reason, we view the Nazis and their perpetrators as modern-day Amalekites.
The Rabbis teach that through the centuries, Amalek’s attacks against the Jewish people have inspired others to attack us. Part of their evil is how those committed to our destruction are talented at drawing others into their fight. For this reason, not only Israel but the Jewish people collectively must be vigilant about how isolated incidents and localized conflicts can spiral out of control.
These ancient lessons are still true today. Locally, isolated incidents of Jewish students being bullied can easily inspire others to do the same. Regionally, Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack has already inspired other terrorist groups and nations to attack Israel and Americans stationed in the region. A grave concern is whether on multiple levels this violence will intensify and spread.
During these challenging and emotionally draining days, I am filled with more questions than answers. How can we best respond to charges that we are no better than the Amalekites and that Israel is the real oppressor? How will this continue to affect our youth in school? How do we best prepare ourselves for the repercussions when we take a stand to defend Israel? At the same time, what about those who fervently believe that Israel’s response has been effective enough and that her leaders should devote their energies to negotiations to free those still held hostage? Are the families and friends of the hostages receiving the support they deserve, considering how much they are suffering day after day? In many ways, we continue to swim in a sea of gray, tossed and turned by nuance, subtlety and context. How are we doing emotionally? Are we becoming numb out of necessity for self-protection? Or do we continue to feel low level anger, frustration and powerlessness?
As we struggle with these questions, let us all continue to turn to each other for a listening ear, for support, for hope and for love.



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