Parshas Beshalach: Amalek and the Power of Memory

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Beshalach, the Bnei Yisrael miraculously cross the Reed Sea on damp land, witness the Egyptians drowning in the sea waters behind them, sing songs of praise and thanks to G-d for the salvation He wrought, receive manna for the first time, and have their thirst quenched by water from a rock for the first time. 

At the end of this very dramatic parsha, the Israelites – a newly freed slave nation – are attacked by their (and our) arch enemy, Amalek (the original Amalek was a grandson of Eisav; Bereishis 36:12).  R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, in the name of his grandfather, R’ Chaim Brisker zt’l zy’a, that Amalek is anyone in anyone generation who rises up to destroy us.

וַיָּבֹא, עֲמָלֵק; וַיִּלָּחֶם עִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בִּרְפִידִם – And Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim, and Moshe said to Yehoshua: Choose men for us and go out, do battle with Amalek, tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of G-d in my hand (Shemos 17:8-9)…  וַיַּחֲלֹשׁ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶת-עֲמָלֵק וְאֶת-עַמּוֹ, לְפִי-חָרֶב – And Yehoshua weakened Amalek and its people with the sword (ibid, v.13). 

At the battle’s end, Amalek was weakened, but not obliterated or defeated, as our long and painful history with Amalek – בכל דר ודר עומדים עלינו לכלותינו – has proven time and again.   

And Hashem said to Moshe: כְּתֹב זֹאת זִכָּרוֹן בַּסֵּפֶר, וְשִׂים, בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ:  כִּי-מָחֹה אֶמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם – Write this as a remembrance in the Book and place it in the ears of Yehoshua, for I will surely wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens (ibid, v.14). 

Moshe was commanded to write down an accounting of the battle with Amalek and to etch it as a remembrance for all future generations. 

R’ Soloveitchik teaches, “The eternity of the Jewish nation is based upon continuity, and this continuity in turn is based mainly on memory.  Here lies the fundamental difference between the non-Jewish world and the Jewish nation.  The world etches its history on tablets, stones, statues and pyramids, while our cultural history is based primarily on memory.  At the same time that Moshe commanded Yehoshua to write, he also commanded him to remember.  While the modern world suffers from memory deficit, our attaining the State of Israel is thanks to the eternal memory of Knesses Yisrael” (Chumash Masores Ha’Rav, Shemos, p.143). 

Knesses Yisrael has a long memory, and our nation is built on that very memory.  We remember the past, we live in the present and we pass the mesorah on to the future.  Amalek’s attack upon the Jewish nation of old, while still in our infancy, as newly freed slaves, is Amalek’s attack on our people in every place and every time.  It is a battle of Hashem with Amalek from generation to generation (Shemos 17:16). 

This past December (12.13.18), in a terrorist shooting attack, while standing at a bus stop in Givat Assaf, Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef, 20, and Sgt. Yosef Cohen, 19, z’l HY”D were murdered. 

Yosef Cohen was eulogized by his step-father, R’ Eliyahu Meirav, after his own father, Dr. Eitan Cohen a’h was niftar a few years ago.  (Anecdotally, Dr. Cohen was the personal dentist to gedolei Yisrael, including R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman z’l.  See Reb Aharon Leib, Artscroll, p.417.)

Nine years ago, R’ Eliyahu Meirav’s own son-in-law, Meir Avshalom Chai HY”D z’l, 40 years old, was killed in a shooting/ambush attack on the Northern Shomron road.  He left behind his wife and seven children R”L, ages 17 years to 2 months old. 

And now, R’ Meirav, grandfather of seven orphans to a terror attack, was called upon once again to eulogize one who he treated and loved like a child. 

“‘Yosef, sweet boy, tzaddik, I didn’t believe for a moment that we would ever arrive at this moment.  We all believe that Hashem gives and Hashem takes.  We did not know, we did not believe, we did not think.’  Addressing Yosef’s own father, R’ Meirav lamented, ‘Dr. Eitan, are you happy that your son is now coming up to you?’  It was a question, a cry, that remained without an answer.

“And, almost with a sense of dèjá vu, R’ Eliyahu relived the nightmare: Then, nine years ago, Avshalom Chai was buried on a Friday afternoon, just prior to Shabbos.  Now, too, on a Friday afternoon, Yosef Cohen was being taken to the same section on Har Ha’zeisim, a section filled with holy, pure martyrs.  ‘You are going up to the highest places,’ R’ Meirav said.  ‘Dear Yosef, you now see the baseless hatred that is raging here.  That is our biggest scourge.  The discord is mounting unbearably.  Daven that it should stop.’

“Yosef’s mother stood near her son’s wrapped body and cried aloud: ‘Thank You, Hashem, for 19 1/2 years of the beautiful gift we had.’

“Eliyahu Meirav and his wife took one last silent look at the grave that has now taken in their son, and to the tune of Ani Ma’amin, the kadosh Yosef ben Eitan Ha’Kohen was lowered into the holy ground” (Hamodia, Features, 12.19.18, p.5). 

Rashi (Shemos 17:16) teaches us that the Name of G-d and the Throne of G-d are not complete, while Amalek still lives and battles against His people.  And when the name of Amalek will be completely obliterated from under the heavens, only then will G-d’s Throne and Name be complete. 

כְּתֹב זֹאת זִכָּרוֹן בַּסֵּפֶר – May we remember well what Amalek did and does to our nation, may we remember well, with pain and tears, the holy kedoshim that have fallen in this long and bitter battle, and ultimately, may we remember well that G-d always saves us from their hands – והקב״ה מצילנו מידם.  Until the great day when His Name and His Throne will be complete.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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