The Amalek Within

Yaakov Klein


The Gemara states “Hakoerei Megillah l’mafreia lo yatza”, “He who reads the Megillah backwards has not fulfilled his obligation.” (Megillah 17b)  R’ Boruch’l of Mezhibozh taught that this line hints at an important message. A Jew must study the Purim story with the realization that it is not merely an ancient drama that happened thousands of years ago, but one which takes place inside each and every one of us, at all times. Thus “He who reads the Megillah L’mafreia”, approaching the Purim story as if it is something that took place long ago and contains no relevancy for today’s generation, “lo yatza”; he has entirely missed the point. 

In the same vein, the Kedushas Levi writes: “It is not just that the Jewish nation is commanded to battle Amalek, the descendant of Eisav, but that each member of the Jewish people must eradicate the portion of evil which is called by the name “Amalek” that is buried inside his heart.” (Kedushas Levi,  D’rush l’Parshas Zachor)  What is Amalek? How does it manifest inside our hearts and affect our avodas Hashem? To answer, we must analyze the verses which deal with the battle against Amalek which took place before Matan Torah.  

The Torah tells us that immediately before Amalek attacked, klal Yisrael questioned the very fundamentals of Judaism, asking “HeYeish Hashem b’kirbeinu im Ayin?”; “Is G-d in our midst or not?” (Shemos 17:7) The moment this doubt crept into the hearts of the Jewish nation, Amalek pounced. This is the entire power of Amalek, their entire weapon: doubt. As is known, the word Amalek is numerically equivalent to the word “Safek”, “Doubt” (240) ; that little voice inside that asks “is it really true?” We are commanded to remember what Amalek did to us on the way, “Asher Karcha baderech”. (Devarim 25:18) The root of the word “KaRcha” is “KaR”, cold. Amalek seeks to cool us off from our spiritual high; to pour icy water on our flaming souls. 

It is well known that the story of Purim is bound up with Adam and Chava’s sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The Gemara states that the source for HaMaN in the Torah is the verse “HaMiN Haetz”, Hashem’s asking Adam, “Did you eat from the tree?” (Chullin 139b) 

What is the connection between Haman-Amalek and the sin of the Eitz Hada’as?  

As we have stated, Amalek’s weapon is his ability to cause us to doubt the existence of One G-d; to doubt that there is a spiritual reality behind this physical dream. Why did Adam want to eat from the Tree? Because the snake convinced him that G-d had eaten from the tree, and if Adam would eat from it he would become like Hashem. Thus, the whole motive behind Adam’s eating from the Tree stemmed from a tremendous breach in the belief that G-d’s unlimited powers are inherent, and that He did not need to be given anything He has by some other source.  The sin of the Eitz Hada’as had “Amalek” written all over it.  

When questioned by Hashem regarding her sin, Chava responded “Hanachash HishiYani”, “The snake tricked me.” How fascinating it is to note that the word “Hishiyani” (הִשִּׁיאַנִי) is made up of the letters of both the words “HaYesh” and “Ayin  אָיִן) / (היֵש; the terms used to express klal Yisrael’s doubt immediately prior to the attack of Amalek, “HaYeish Hashem b’kirbeinu im ayin?” (Bereishis 3:13) 

But it goes even deeper. We know that there are two verses in the Torah. One verse is the famous “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad“, “Hear O Israel, Hashem our God Hashem is One” (Devarim 6:4 ) 

The other verse states “Lo Sishtachaveh L’el Acher“, “You may not prostrate yourselves to another god” (Shemos 34:14) In a Torah scroll, the last letters of these two phrases, the Dalet of “EchaD” and the Reish of “AcheR” are enlarged. The reason for this is that it is very easy to confuse the letters Dalet and Reish as they look very much alike and, in this context, confusing them could be blasphemous.  

What is the differrence between the letter Dalet and the letter Reish? The difference is that the letter Dalet has a little extra sticking out of the back called a “Kotz”, a “thorn” (See Likutei Moharan 10). (It is remarkable to note that not only is that little thorn the physical difference between these two letters, it is also the numerical difference, as Dalet equals 4Reish equals 200, and the difference between 4 and 200 is 196, the exact numerical value of the word “kotz”; that little thorn.) 

Amalek’s goal is to blur that thorn, to cause us to confuse between the letters Dalet and Reish, “Hashem EchaD” and “El acheR”. He causes us to get caught up in the views of a world which is so atheist, so far in its values and interests from the belief in anything deep, anything spiritual. (See Bereishis Rabbah 53:5) We live in the world predicted two hundred and fifty years ago by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov when he stated “In the coming generations great torrents of atheism will flood the world.”(Sichos Haran 39) This is the force of Amalek at work. (Indeed, the word “Haman” in its expanded form with each of the letters spelled out (הה ממ ננ) equals 196 – “kotz“, the thorn which differentiates between the Dalet and Reish; Amalek’s source. In addition, the Midrash teaches that Haman was hanged on a thornbush. [Esther Rabbah, 9]) 

When Adam eats from the tree, Hashem curses him with having to work the ground to produce food, and says “V’Kotz V’dardar tatzmiach lach”; “Thorns and thistles will sprout for you.” (Bereishis 3:18) But there is a deeper meaning as well. “V’Kotz”! Says G-d. “You have allowed Amalek, doubt, to blur the little thorn which distinguishes between the belief in G-d and atheism. Thus, “V’Dardar tatzmiach lach” (וְקוֹץ וְדַרְדַּר תַּצְמִיחַ לָך), now you will have to battle with this doubt; “DaRDaR”; DaletReishDaletReish”; back and forth; “Hashem Echad” or “el acher” until the end of time” (Ben Ish Chai, B’nei Yissaschar, Megaleh Amukos) 

When the Torah discusses the obligation to remember this attack, it states “Hashem will have a war with Amalek for all generations.” Fascinatingly enough, the way the Torah refers to G-d’s battle against Amalek in all generations is “Milchamah l’Hashem B’Amlek m’dor dor“, מִלְחָמָה לַה’ בַּעֲמָלֵק מִדֹּר דֹּר, again DaletReishDaletReish וְקוֹץ וְדַרְדַּר תַּצְמִיחַ לָך)), a reference to Amalek’s goal of blurring the difference between the Dalet and Reish, inflicting safek, doubt, into our hearts and souls. 

The question is, what’s the cure? How can we fight off the Amalek within? The answer is Emunah. When Amalek attacks Klal Yisrael, Moshe battles with his hands; when he holds them up, the Jews are winning. How did this work? The Mishna tells us that when Moshe lifted his hands in the air, it was the signal for the Jews to look heavenward; to realize that without G-d they had nothing, and that it was Hashem, not their own efforts, Who was helping them win the war. (Rosh HaShana 3:8) Thus the verse states “Vayehi Yadav emunah”; Moshe’s hands exuded the emunah necessary to battle Amalek. (Shemos 17:12) 

When the lots Haman drew for the time to carry out his plan to eradicate the Jews fell out in the month of Adar, he was thrilled because this was the month in which Moshe had died. (Megillah 13b) According to what we have learned, the reason for Haman’s joy is now clear. As we have stated, Moshe represents emunah; the only way to battle Amalek. Thus, Haman reasoned that the month in which this great teacher of the staunch belief in One G-d had died would surely be an auspicious time for Amalek to attack and inflict its poisonous message of doubt upon the Jews. But here’s what Haman didn’t know. The Gemara says that although Moshe indeed passed away on 7 Adar, it was also the day on which he had been born. The Chasam Sofer teaches that Moshe’s being born on the 7th of Adar refers not to his birth into this world, but rather to his rebirth, after his death, into each and every Jew of all future generations. Each of us now contained a piece of Moshe, unwavering emunah, within. What Haman didn’t realize is that in Adar we in fact have the most ability to battle Amalek, not the least. And indeed, the rest is history. Thus, the Megillah says “Layehudim haysa ohrah v’simcha”, “For the Jews there was light and joy” (Esther 8:16), using the same wording as the Midrash which relates that by Moshe’s birth, “Nismaleh habayis kulo ohrah”, “The house filled with light“. The only way we can battle Haman-Amalek is by tapping into the rebirth of Moshe within our individual souls. (Perhaps this is why the moth in which Moshe both died and was reborn is called the month of  אדר; on the one hand it has the power of Moshe’s death represented by דר; Amalek’s ability to blur the thorn between the Dalet and Reish, but also has the power of Moshe’s rebirth represented by א of “Hashem Echad“; perfect emunah.) 

But what is emunahEmunah begins where da’as, knowledge sent by my senses to my brain, ends. Emunah is the belief in what lies beyond the physical world; to the underlying spiritual reality and the life force sent out from G-d which powers all of Creation every split second. Emunah goes beyond what my hands can feel, beyond what my eyes can see, beyond what my nose can smell, and beyond what my mind can grasp. Belief in G-d stems from a place higher than the limited reach of the human mind. This is why on Purim, when we are decimating the Amalek within, we are drinking “Ad d’lo yada”, to get to a place which is beyond our mind’s grasp, to reach true emunah with which to battle the doubt, the “DaRDaR” of Amalek. 

Shoshanas Yaakov”! On Purim let us tap into the Rose of Emunah, the “Shoshana bein hachochim”, the “Rose among Thorns” (Shir HaShirim 2:2); thorns of doubt; thorns of the Amalek inside our souls. Then, and only then, will we merit “Tzahala v’sameicha”, true joy; as the sefarim say “Ein simcha k’hataras hasfeikos”; “There is no joy as the joy of clarifying a doubt.”  Let us scream with absolute and unwavering belief in One G-d: “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem ECHAD! 

Yaakov Klein is the author of Sparks from Berditchov: An Inspirational Guide to Avodas Hashem recently published by Feldheim. Originally from Far Rockaway, New York, Yaakov currently lives in Chicago with his wife Shira, where he teaches for the ICJS, writes, and produces music. Yaakov can be reached on his Facebook page @sparksfromberditchov. He looks forward to connecting with you