Amalaeq – enemy within

Amalaeq is vilified in the Torah for being Israel’s perpetual enemy. Throughout history, whenever a wicked hand has threatened us, that hand has been imputed to be Amalaeq. Soon after crossing the sea of reeds (Yam Suph), the Israelites came to a place called Bitterness (Marah) where both the people and the water were described as being bitter. Not long after, the Israelites complain of starvation due to a lack of meat. Despite haShem providing them with meat and Manah, the Israelites again defy haShem and find themselves in a place called R’phidim. Although literally meaning a place of much spreading out, the allegorical meaning is reflected best in the Akkadian cognate meaning to roam, wander, keep moving, be restless. Due to the Israelite’s further complaint of lack of water, R’phidim, the place of much restless wandering, is renamed Masah and M’rivah (challenge and posturing) due to their posturing and their challenging of haShem. It is here, in the place of much restless wandering that Amalaeq comes in to engage Israel in battle.

But this is not the first place in Torah where Amalaeq is mentioned. Amalaeq is a distant cousin, a grandson of Esau and mentioned in Genesis 36 12:

ותמנע היתה פילגש לאליפז בן עשו ותלד לאליפז עמלק

And Timna was a concubine to Eliphaz, the son of Esau, and she was bearing for Eliphaz, Amalaeq.

In the allegory of Torah, each person’s name represents a particular behavior whose translation is based on both its etymology and the allegorical context in which it is presented. When a wife’s name is given, that name represents a behavior that modifies the initial behavior associated with the husband. For example, Adam represents the first defining and quintessential human behavior, the ability to think, plan, imagine and make comparisons; derived from the verb DaMaH (דמה). Even though the text suggests that Chavah’s name comes from the verb meaning to live (ChaYaH – חיה), it is actually a double entendre which allows the allegory to base her name on the unrelated verb (ChaWaH – חוה) meaning to point out and instruct. Why? The text provides the answer: Because it is not good for one’s thinking to be alone, I shall make for it an assist, as one in opposition to it. Thinking and planning, in and of themselves, do not get a person engaging experience. Chawah, represents the mental faculty, instructing and pointing the way, that stops further planning and thinking and forces the person to put their plans into action. Allegorically, Adam and Chawah launch a person’ ability to engage experience. Thereafter, each new character’s name elaborates on how additional thinking processes either expedite or hinder from that goal. For example, Noach means to rest, Avram means an augmented ability to willingly give forth to experience, and Lot means to curse, complain and hold back.

Eliphaz (אליפז), Amalaeq’s father’s name, consists of Eli (אלי) and phaz (פז). Eli (אלי) means a person’s advancing forward. It comes from an unattested root /uL (אול) from which are derived the words AeL (אל) (G-d, but literally meaning one who advances existence forward), eL (אל) (advancing toward, to), /ayil (איל) ram (one ramming forward), and the verb Ya/aL יאל to endeavor (advance forward) to do something. The second component of his name, phaz (פז), comes from PaZaZ / PaZaH (פזז פזה), literally meaning to scatter in many directions. So Eliphaz (אליפז) means one’s advancing forward in an erratic way. His children’s names represent a sequence of secondary behaviors. In this case, these are activities that describe how a person might approach and process information when advancing through a scene, albeit in an erratic way. They are: one’s remaining ever present, one’s tenaciously examining the scene, one’s observing a particular aspect of the scene, and then one’s thrusting forth toward them, and then one’s fixating upon that particular thing.1

Allegorically, when a wife’s name is specified in the text, usually that name modifies the behavior associated with the husband’s name. Rather than attempt a torturous explanation of the Hebrew word for concubine (פילגש), suffice it to say that it represents a divergence from the behavior represented by the name of the father or the mother. Amalaeq’s mother’s name is Timna (תמנע) from the root MaNa\ (מנע) meaning to restrain, refrain and hold back. So where Eliphaz represents a person’s advancing forward into experience so as to process the scene and eventually engage with something, his mother’s name, one’s refraining, represents an erratic processing of the scene without advancing forward.

The name Amalaeq (עמלק) is formed by combining two roots \aM (עם) and LaQ (לק). The first part comes from the related roots \aMaH – \aMaM (עמה עמם) literally meaning to be ever present with. However, when something is ever present with something else, it can be close or too close. Therefore, the words derived from this root reflect closeness: with, people, connect, corresponding; and those representing being too close: covered over, suppress, ignorant, dim, dark, and blind. Allegorically, the word \aM (עם) represents a person’s ability to be ever presently with (or mindful) of experience. But the second component, LaeQ (לק), comes from the verb LaQaH (לקה) meaning to suffer, be afflicted, smitten, stricken, and eclipsed. So Amalaeq (עמלק) represents a person’s mental state when their ability to be mindful is eclipsed or afflicted. Eliphaz proceeds through a scene, erratically, and processes information so as to ultimately engage with something. However, when there is deviation from this behavior, such that the person refrains from advancing forward, what is left is Amalaeq, an erratic and scattered mindfulness, a mindfulness that is afflicted and eclipsed. This is the reason why Amalaeq attacks the Israelites at R’phidim, when the Israelites are engaged in much restless wandering.

Not surprisingly, the behavior described by Amalaeq is the nemesis of Yisrael. We all know that Yisrael means one who wrestles with G-d. However, this is not exactly the allegorical meaning of Yisrael. The first component of Yisrael comes from the verb SaRaH (שרה). This verb is related to the verbs ShowR (שור) to get a (visual) fix on / to see, ShaRaR (שרר) to direct, SaRaR (שרר) to hold firm over / to rule; /aShaR (אשר) to go intentionally / directly and the three homonym nouns ShowR (שור) meaning wall, ox, and umbilical cord, all essentially meaning firm. These related verbs and nouns all essentially mean to be firm or fixated on something, either physically or visually. As stated before, AeL (G-d, אל), the second component of Yisrael (ישראל), literally means one who advances existence forward. Allegorically it represents what advances forward in experience as a result of G-d’s advancing existence forward. So Yisrael means a person’s focusing upon the many things advancing forward in experience. On the other hand, Amalaeq represents a person’s mental state that precludes focus, the mental state that occurs when one’s ability to be mindful is eclipsed and afflicted.

Here is the text in Exodus 17:8 that explains how Israel’s leadership dealt with Amalaeq:

ויבא עמלק וילחם עם ישראל ברפידים ויאמר משה אל יהושע בחר לנו אנשים וצא הלחם בעמלק מחר אנכי נצב על ראש הגבעה ומטה האלהים בידי ויעש יהושע כאשר אמר לו משה להלחם בעמלק ומשה אהרן וחור עלו ראש הגבעה והיה כאשר ירים משה ידו וגבר ישראל וכאשר יניח ידו וגבר עמלק וידי משה כבדים ויקחו אבן וישימו תחתיו וישב עליה ואהרן וחור תמכו בידיו מזה אחד ומזה אחד ויהי ידיו אמונה עד בא השמש ויחלש יהושע את עמלק ואת עמו לפי חרב

And Amalaeq was coming in and was engaging in battle with Yisrael in R’phidim. And Moshe was saying to Y’hoshua, “Select for us men. And go out, engage in battle with Amalaeq tomorrow. I will stand upon the head of the hill and the staff of Elohim will be in my hand.” And Y’hoshua was doing as that Moshe said to him to engage in battle against Amalaeq. And Moshe, Aharon and Chur ascended the head of the hill. And it was as Moshe was elevating his hand that Yisrael prevailed and as he was laying his hand to rest that Amalaeq prevailed. But the hands of Moshe were heavy and so they were taking a stone and were putting it beneath him and he was sitting upon it. And Aharon and Chur supported with his hands, from here (this), one, and from there (this), one. And his hands were reliable unto the coming in of the sun. And so Y’hoshua weakened Amalaeq and its people by the edge of the sword.

In order to fully understand the allegorical meaning of this passage, we will need to know the allegorical meanings of each of the words and characters. To do so would be overwhelming, especially if proofs are to be provided for each word. Instead, I will list the allegorical meanings of the most important words and provide some proofs.

Moshe (משה) – one’s ability to draw upon particular things from experience ( from the verb MaShaH (משה) to draw out)

Aharon (אהרון) – one’s becoming aware of particular things emerging into view ( from the verbs HaRaH (הרה) to conceive, and HaRHaeR (הרהר) to conceive in mind)

Y’hoshua (יהושע) – one’s ability to dwell upon the extensiveness of G-d’s bringing forth of existence ( from Shuwa\ (שוע), Sha\a (שעה) and YaSha\ (ישע) – all variants of to linger / look out longingly)

Chur (חור) – one’s examining what is evident so as to gain clarity (from ChowR (חור) to make clear, evident)

Elohim (אלוהים) – G-d’s Guidance being presented in experience ( from לוה > אלוה to guide, escort (like a number of nouns formed by prefixing an א to the root))

In the above text, the person’s ability to focus upon what advances forward in experience (Yisrael), which is also the means by which a person engages with and processes what G-d brings forth in existence, is being interrupted and interfered with by the eclipsing of the person’s ability to be mindful of experience (Amalaeq). The solution is to utilize other mental faculties, those represented by Moshe, Aharon, Chur and Y’hoshua. First a person needs to bring themselves into alignment with what exists. Y’hoshua, one’s ability to dwell upon the extensiveness of G-d’s bringing forth of existence, serves this role by being the aspect of the person on the battlefield of life. Moshe, one’s ability to draw upon particular things from experience, acts as the filter that determines which of the many things available from experience should be drawn upon. When his power (hands) are elevated, the person’s mind prevails over the eclipsing of mindfulness. But when his power lets up, he is unable to see the individual trees in the forest. The mind is overwhelmed and the eclipsing of the ability to be mindful prevails. In processing the details of the scene, his hands eventually become heavy with details. The jobs of Aharon and Chur are similar – to examine the particulars of a scene and give them clarity. But Aharon (being the Cohaen, one giving a scene precise and mindful attention) also directs Moshe regarding which particular details to select from experience. In this case, they take up a stone (/even, אבן) which literally means that which prominently sticks out (juts up from between (בין) the ground). It represents the particular details that are most important from any scene – those that stick out most prominently – one from here and one form there. In so doing, Moshe’s hands were steadied until the coming in of the sun. The Arabic cognate of the Hebrew word for sun, SheMeSh (שמש) also means fortitude. So his hands or powers or abilities were assured until the fortitude came in, thus weakening the eclipsing of mindfulness (Amalaeq).

Here is the selection about Amalaeq in this weeks parshah Kee Tatsae (Dt25 17):

זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק בדרך בצאתכם ממצרים אשר קרך בדרך ויזנב בך כל הנחשלים אחריך ואתה עיף ויגע ולא ירא אלהים והיה בהניח יהוה אלהיך לך מכל איביך מסביב בארץ אשר יהוה אלהיך נתן לך נחלה לרשתה תמחה את זכר עמלק מתחת השמים לא תשכח

Remember what Amalaeq did to you on the way, in your going out from Egypt, that he approached you on the way and was flailing against you, all of those hammered down behind you. And you were tired and exhausted and not in awe of Elohim. And it will be in haShem’s giving rest to you from all of your enemies, all around in the land that haShem gives for you an inheritance to take possession of it, wipe out the memory of Amalaeq from beneath the skies. You may not forget.

At least in the early parts of the book of Exodus, Israel’s other nemesis was Egypt, Mitsraim (מצרים). It is plausible that Mitsraim is so named due to its mostly consisting of two narrow areas of arable land on either side of the Nile river. On the other hand, allegorically the word Mitsri (מצרי) represents a person’s ability to visually narrow in upon something and focus upon it. This seems like a positive attribute and indeed it is used positively throughout much of the text. For example, Hagar, the Mitsrit, allegorically enables Sarai (one’s attempting to focus upon many things, from the verb SaRaH – שרה) to draw in upon something (from the verb GowR – גור) while narrowing in upon it. However in contradistinction from Yisrael, Mitsraim is best translated allegorically as a person’s distractedly focusing in upon the many things in experience narrowing in. This fits well with the allegorical significance of Pharaoh, a person’s chaotically going off in many directions in an attempt to devote attention to many things (from פרע PaRa\ to behave chaotically, see (Ex5:4) and its Arabic cognate meaning to devote and apply oneself, do one’s best).

So Yisrael (a person’s focusing upon the many things advancing forward in experience) was able to overcome Mitsraim (a person’s distractedly focusing upon the many things narrowing in), but not without feeling hammered by the experience (נחשלים). So in comes Amalaeq (the eclipsing of one’s ability to be mindful of things) that flails upon the person. How was this possible? Because you were tired and exhausted and were not in awe of G-d’s guidance being provided for you in experience. Nevertheless, a time will come as a result of your being attentive to G-d’s guidance being presented in experience that your enemies, those things that alarm you in experience, will be put to rest. The Hebrew word for enemy (אויב) comes from the verb to alarm which comes from the root YaBhaBh (יבב) meaning to cry out and lament. An enemy is a person who causes a person to cry out, lament and feel alarm.

Sometimes we feel like life is the enemy – either because life is too challenging or because life is devoid of inspiring challenges. We feel like the distribution of G-d’s providence, Mannah (מנה, to distribute), is inadequate or not what we were wanting. Or we can’t seem to find what is stirred up for us, the water, (Mayim, מים) (from the verb HaMaH, to stir up, המה). And we find ourselves restlessly wandering and roaming about in a place called R’phidim. But our Jewish belief tells us that everything comes from haShem (G-d’s bringing forth of existence). Although we know that G-d is everywhere, we think about G-d as residing in the heavens, in the shamayim (שמים). This word is derived from the verb SiyM (שים) to put forth (impose) and arrange. Allegorically, the heavens represent the things put forth, made available, and imposed by G-d that are to be found in experience. With Elohim’s help, we will wipe out and erase Amalaeq from our minds under the influence and subdued by (תחת) the many things put forth by G-d for us in our lives.

This internal enemy is a perpetual onus that blurs our minds. The eclipsing of our ability to remain mindful separates us from haShem’s wondrous creation and from each other. It hampers our effectiveness and restrains our ability to work toward self actualization and personal fulfillment. We must erase the mindset of Amalaeq which forever lurks in the recesses of our minds.

1 – Tayman (תימן) one’s remaining ever present (from ימן = ever present, sure); Omar (אומר) one’s tenaciously examining the scene (from אמר in Akkadian and Ugaritic = to look at, see, inspect, examine); Tsapho (צפו) one’s observing a particular aspect of the scene (from צפה = to observe); Ga\atam (געתם) one’s thrusting forth toward them (from געת to thrust toward, approach); Qanaz (קנז) one’s fixating upon that particular thing (related to QNT^ – קנט to hunt, bag and catch).

Ernest Klein (1987) A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company

Hans Wehr. Ed by J Milton Cowan (1979) Hans Wehr A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. Ithaca, NY: Published in the United States by Spoken Languages Services, Inc with permission of Otto Harrassowitz

Jeremy Black, Andrew George, Nicholas Postgate, eds., A Concise Dictionary ofAkkadian, 2nd corrected printing (Santag Arbeiten und Untersuchungen Zur Keilschriftkunde, 5; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2000)

Marcus Jastrow (1996) A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushlami, and the Midrashic Literature.New York: The Judaica Press

J. Payne Smith’s (1999) A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Published by Wipf and Stock

About the Author
David Kolinsky is a retired physician born and raised in Monsey, New York. While living in Monterey California, David initially lived as a secular, agnostic Jew. However, in his spare time, he delved into twenty years of daily study of Hebrew etymology and Torah study culminating in the writing of an etymological dictionary of Biblical Hebrew and a metaphorical translation of Torah. Abandoning his agnostic views, David was simultaneously a spiritual leader of the world's smallest conservative synagogue, a teacher in his local reform synagogue, and a gabbai at Chabad. He is currently sheltering in place with his family in his new home in Plano, Texas.
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