Published on March 16th, 2011 | by JLedger0
Torah Portion: The Amalek in Each and All of Us
Bear in mind, what Amalek did to you leaving Egypt- how he encountered you on the way, cut down the stragglers in your rear, when you (Israelites) were famished and weary and” undeterred by fear of God”.
Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from your enemies, blot out the memory of Amalek. Do not forget!
(Deut; 25; 17-19)
And we are assured that;
“I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek”…The Lord will be at war with Amalek throughout the generations.”
(Ex; 17; 14-16)
Is there no way to end the enmity short of blotting out the memory of Amalek?
“…undeterred by fear of God” certainly applies to the Amalekites, who attacked the suffering stragglers, the” famished” and “weary.”
What is fear of God? The midwives, Shifrah and Puah, ordered by Pharaoh to kill all newborn Israelite boys, do not do so because they fear God. (Ex.1: 17).
They risk life and position by lying about how the baby boys survived.
Amalek attacks those who cannot keep up, the weary stragglers of no military or strategic importance. Defeating and killing the Israelites in battle is one thing, but the women and children, the “famished and weary,” who cannot hurt you, are no threat. What is the point of killing them? To kill them, you have to depersonalize them. You kill them because they happen to be Israelites, because they’re different, because they’re not you. Amalek attacks and kills the “other” simply because they are the “other.” A depersonalized other.
Undeterred by fear of God can also apply to the Israelites. Perhaps at an Israelite army staff meeting when a scout reported that there were those trailing behind, no junior officer or commander stood up to say, ” we have stragglers out there; women and children, weary and famished, young and old who can’t keep up — we have to shield them somehow!” No troops were deployed, nor protection provided. The Israelite high command depersonalized their own people. They were the refuse, no longer useful in
the long trek to Canaan. They had become other. They were depersonalized, and left to be exterminated by Amalek.
Israelites and Amalekites both were not, “God fearing!” Unlike the midwives of old, they ignored the ultimate value of each person. Both depersonalized the other.
Both were responsible for the awful outcome. Neither was God-fearing. Being God-fearing means recognizing the ultimate personhood, and unique worth of each human being, and depersonalizing none.
Courting my “Yekkeh Rebbitzin” I had to deal with her German-ness. One night after viewing the documentary ‘The Siege of Leningrad’, I phoned and told her that I had seen it. She responded; “It’s terrible how many Germans died there.” I exploded! — “Who began the war?! Who attacked whom?! Who was encircling and starving Leningrad anyway?!” She responded; –“You think those students, farmers, clerks, my uncle, wanted to die there?” I was caught up short! I was doing what had been done to my people. I had depersonalized them all. They were German. Their death did not count.
Each of us depersonalizes others; our spouses, friends, the other sex, neighbors, ethnic groups, religions, and races, whoever is perceived as “other.” We all live with alien realities! Depersonalizing is a simple way of dealing with “alienness.” It is simpler to be undeterred by fear of God- and depersonalize the other! Being God fearing is much tougher. Recognizing the divine uniqueness in every other, not depersonalizing them is difficult. It runs headlong into what we have to do daily. We have to generalize. If every time we met a new person we started wondering, ‘is this creature human or an orangutan? Do I smile or run for cover,’ we would be stuck. We learn by generalizing. Whether in Chicago, Illinois or Fairfield, Connecticut, a red light means stop. In the U.S. we drive on the right and generalize that others do the same. Otherwise it would be insanity to drive down the road. Much of our behavior comes from our ability to generalize from one situation to another, from one person to another. Otherwise we could predict nothing. Generalizing is the direct opposite of recognizing each human being as a specific and different person, each created in the “Image”, unique, and ultimately valuable. Depersonalizing is a lot easier. It’s in our bones. Being undeterred by fear of God is both natural and effortless.
So the text is intense and resolute. God is at war with the Amalek in us and in others in all generations. God has sworn us to an oath to wipe out Amalek; we are covenanted to overcome the tendency to depersonalize others, which has wreaked so much havoc in human history. Our task is to be counted with those who fear God. Our mission is to affirm the personhood in all others and ourselves. Our battle is to blot out the Amalek, which depersonalizes and destroys, less it destroy the world!
Jack H Bloom is a rabbi and clinical psychologist and a member of the CCAR (Reform) the RA (Conservative) and the APA (Psychologists)