B’SHALACH (Exodus, 13:17-17:16) — “Restoring ‘G__’s Thr__'”

Amalek.  The very mention of the name awakens within the Jew the memory of countless persecutions, pogroms, and holocausts.  Amalek is the symbol of the worst of anti-Semitism.  Amalek, the grandson of Jacob’s twin brother and archenemy Esau, was surely a source of pride and joy to his evil grandfather.  Amalek was the ancestor of the nation that attacked the Israelites shortly after their Exodus from Egypt.  Haman of Purim fame was a descendant of Amalek.  Agag, an Amalekite king, was a cruel and heartless murderer. There is a tradition in the name of the Vilna Gaon (who lived in the 1700’s) that the Germans are descendants of Amalek (Not a surprising tradition, considering the Amalek-like brutality that the Germans demonstrated a half century ago.)

Amalek has declared war against Israel, and G-d has declared war against Amalek. We symbolically obliterate the memory of Amalek by making noise on Purim whenever Haman’s name is mentioned.  Some Torah scribes test a new pen by writing the name “Amalek” and then crossing it out.  Some people write “Amalek” or “Haman” on the bottom of their shoes, thereby erasing the name as they walk.

Why this tremendous enmity for Amalek?  Biblical and later history is replete with descriptions of terrible acts perpetrated against our People by many nations.  Look at the Egyptians and what they did to us.  Yet the Torah tells us not to despise them. (Deuteronomy, 23:8) The same verse tells us not to hate Edomites, also descendants of Esau!  The world is filled with enemies of Israel. Why is Amalek singled out for a special Divine grudge?

This week we read of the miracle of the Splitting of the Red Sea.  In order to save the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptians, G-d “zipped open” the sea to allow the Israelites to escape, and then closed it on the pursuing Egyptians.  At that time, when the nations of the world saw what G-d had done for us, they were united in their fear of the Israelites.  They didn’t love us, but at least they respected us.

Only Amalek had the Chutzpah to attack.  The Torah tells us that Joshua organized a military force to fight back and force the Amalekites to retreat. After the battle G-d took a divine oath, with “the Hand on G-d’s Throne, G-d will be at war with Amalek for all generations.” (Exodus, 17:16) Just as people can swear by the Torah or something else holy, G-d chose to use His throne as the item upon which to place “His Hand.”

The Talmud (Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Setze, 11) points out that the Torah uses an unusual grammatical form in writing the words “G-d’s Throne.” The Hebrew word for throne, or chair, is “Kisay.” The Torah abbreviates the word and writes “Kase.” It’s basically the same word, but the letter “Aleph” is missing.  The Hebrew word for “G-d” is usually spelled with four letters: Yud, Hey, Vuv, and Hey.” This word, too, is abbreviated in this passage to just the first two letters.

This re-spelling of words is the approximate equivalent of writing  “G-d’s Throne” as “G__’s Thr___.” Both words are only partially spelled!

The Midrash explains the partial spelling of the words “G-d” and “Throne” in reference to G-d’s war with Amalek.  What G-d is telling Moses is that “Neither My Name nor My Throne will be complete as long as Amalek is around!”

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Why would G-d’s name be incomplete with Amalek around?  Is it possible that Amalek has the power to affect G-d??!  How could that be?

The Sifsei Chachomim explains that NOTHING could affect G-d’s Name and His throne.  Rather, what the Midrash is telling us is that as long as Amalek exists, OUR PERCEPTION of G-d is diminished.

Many years ago Rabbi Shmuel Geller, a childhood friend from my hometown of Norwich, Connecticut, now of Zichron Yakov, Israel, shared the following interpretation:

The four letters of G-d’s name, Yud, Hey, Vuv, and Hey, can be read as initials of the four words, “Yism’chu Hashomayim V‘sagel Haaretz…, the Heavens will be glad, and the Earth will rejoice...” (Psalms, 96:11) This verse refers to how Heaven and all of Creation carry out the will of G-d.  This verse points out how G-d is involved in all the intricate functions of Nature.

This is a concept that Amalek rejected.  Amalek believed that G-d had created the world, but is really not interested in the day-to-day functions of Creation. The so-called “Watchmaker Theory” — A watchmaker can make a watch and then go away and never have any other involvement with the watch; it will continue to function.  In the same way, G-d created the world, but then He left town; He retired and moved to Florida!

Amalek accepted the first two letters of G-d’s name: Yud and Hey, which stand for “Yism’chu Hashomayim, the Heavens will be glad.”  Amalek could tolerate the fact that there is a G-d in Heaven who created the world.  But he refused to recognize the second two letters, Vuv and Hey, which stand for “V‘sagel Haaretz, and the Earth will rejoice…” As far as Amalek was concerned, G-d is not at all involved in what we do and why we do it.  That’s why Amalek had no compunctions about attacking the nation that was held in awe by the rest of the world. Quite simply, Amalek “had no fear of G-d.” (Deuteronomy, 25:17)

This is the reason for G-d’s (and our!) unending battle against the Amaleks of the world.  The Torah teaches us that G-d is intimately occupied in every aspect of our lives.  He is NOT a watchmaker who creates and goes away.  He is like an electrical generator attached to a waterfall — if the water stops flowing, the lights go out!  He created the world way back in Genesis 1:1, and continues to re-create the world every day.

That’s why we celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees, this week.  G-d controls nature. That’s why there is a blessing that is recited when leaving the bathroom; G-d controls our health. That’s why many people have the the custom of reading part of this week’s Torah Reading, the section dealing with Manna from Heaven, (16:4-36) every day.  G-d controls our income. That’s why we pray for peace in Israel and the world.  One of G-d’s names is Shalom.

Let us all look forward to the day when the whole world will recognize that G-d is One, and His name is One.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives

“Get Rich THIS TUESDAY!!!!” (2010)

… In all due respect to the great Rabbi Mendel, I am troubled by this concept.  Is it possible that a once-a-year reading of ninety-nine verses (33×2 in Hebrew +33 in Aramaic) is all we need to do to make a living??

It almost appears to be a “quick fix;” a short formula that guarantees results without too much work. (A “spiritual Amway!” :-))  Read the magical verses and the money will flow in!  No pain, big gain! …

Read more.

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“Because Your Father Said So!!” (2008)

… The Torah says to rest on the Sabbath. What’s more restful and relaxing than going fishing and then driving out to the ball park to watch the Red Sox? (Forgive the personal bias! 🙂 ) And who feels like walking to synagogue in the rain or scorching heat? The Torah says to rest on the Sabbath.

Why can’t I rest MY way?!

Read more.
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“Don’t Leave Home Without It!” (2007)

… Men and women just don’t see things the same way. Men are practical. Women are emotional. Women pack for a trip to Mars as if they are going all the way to Venus. Men sometimes get exasperated over their wives’ lack of practicality.

… the Pharaoh has just done a political flip-flop. He is now DEMANDING that the Israelites leave. NOW!

You’re packing your bags. You can’t take much. You don’t even have time to let your bread rise. You grab your money, some weapons, all your credit cards… You’re going with barely more than the clothes on your back. Wait a second… “Honey! Where are you going with THOSE?!!”

Your wife has just packed her drum set into the back of the station wagon.

“Oh, I need these!” she responds…

Read more.
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“Sticks and Stones” (2006)

… Moses lifted his “magic wand” … This was obviously one very powerful stick. Moses had pulled it out of the ground in his future father-in-law’s garden, a feat that no one else was able to accomplish. As a result, Jethro understood that Moses was destined to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. (The origin, perhaps, of the legend of King Arthur and Excalibur???)

… This was the staff that turned into a snake. This was the staff that turned the Nile to blood and wreaked havoc and destruction upon the Egyptians. This stick had punished the Egyptians at the Red Sea… the Israelites didn’t particularly care for Moses’ walking stick. It was destructive. It caused suffering in Egypt, and at the Red Sea. It was a killer stick. It seemed only good for punishment.
Was it capable of doing anything POSITIVE??

Read more.
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“Some People Just Don’t Get It!” (2005)

Ah, they don’t make kings the way they used to! Or do they?

The king of Egypt was, to say the least, a very stubborn man. He never did seem to get it. His country was absolutely destroyed over his obstinate refusal to release his Hebrew slaves. Repeatedly, Moses told him to let the Israelites leave. Repeatedly, he refused. Repeatedly, he responded to G-d’s punishment with a contrite promise to comply. Repeatedly, he changed his mind… Sort of reminds us of most of today’s world leaders. No matter what Israel does, it’s no good. No matter what the Arab terrorists do, they are “freedom fighters,” peaceful people who have been driven from their homeland by vicious Zionist marauder. The U.N. and the European Union don’t seem to recognize the truth when it stares them in the face. They just don’t get it… Why can’t the world’s leaders be more like the king of Nineveh? …

Read more.
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“Singing the Red Sea Blues” (2003)

… It was a sacred symphony; a song of praise totally unprecedented in world history. It was such an exalted event that the angels themselves could not be silent. They too, wanted to join in and sing to G-d. (After all, that’s what angels DO. They sing praises to G-d!)

G-d silenced them…

Read more.
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“Is Democracy a Torah Concept?” (2002)

… Four-fifths of the Nation of Israel preferred not to leave Egypt. Why not? Medrash Rabbah (13,3) says that they had “Patronin” (translation: patronage?) from the Egyptians and they didn’t want to give up their wealth and honor by leaving Egypt.

This is truly mind-boggling. 80% of the Israelites preferred to remain, at best, as second-class citizens in Egypt, rather than to follow Moses to freedom. Obviously, Moses was far from universal popularity. He was not the heroic freedom fighter leading a grass-roots rebellion against the Pharaoh. If anything, he was probably considered a troublemaker, a rabble-rouser.

What would have happened if there had been a New York Times/Gallop Poll in Egypt? Can you see the headlines? “Eighty Per Cent Choose Status Quo…Moses Said to be Preparing Concession Speech.”…

Read more.
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“Restoring ‘G__’s Thr__’” (2001)

… when the nations of the world saw what G-d had done for us, they were united in their fear of the Israelites. They didn’t love us, but at least they respected us.

Only Amalek had the Chutzpah to attack… What G-d is telling Moses is that “Neither My Name nor My Throne will be complete as long as Amalek is around!”

Why would G-d’s name be incomplete with Amalek around? Is it possible that Amalek has the power to affect G-d??! How could that be?…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at http://www.torahtalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz. May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.
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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.
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Published in: on February 6, 2001 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  

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