Biblical Hebrew is known as lashon hakodesh, the holy language, because the very words and letters contain deep insights. Those who master lashon hakodesh will learn a great deal about the nature of the world that God created even before they study the actual Torah!
There are numerous Hebrew words that refer to intelligence, but all of them have different nuances, and they are not interchangeable as with other languages. There are also many Hebrew words to describe a fool. Whereas one person can have multiple intellectual attributes (knowledge, ability to distinguish between similar ideas, ability to derive new information from his knowledge, etc.) each fool is distinct in his manner of foolishness.
Two of the many words that refer to fools are כסיל (k’sil) and אויל (eh’vil). These words are used numerous times throughout Mishlei, a book of proverbs by the wisest of all men that consistently promotes Torah wisdom and denigrates fools. It is critical to recognize the nuances between these types of fools to understand King Shlomo’s lessons and relate to these respective individuals properly.
Chapter 26 contains many verses about the כסיל and the אויל. Malbim explains that the כסיל is someone who goes against the ways of wisdom to satisfy his desires. Deep down he knows that God is real and the Torah is true, but he casts doubt on the truth to justify his boundless pursuit of worldly pleasures. He claims that he is following God’s will even as he behaves contrary to everything in the Torah, inventing far-fetched arguments and interpretations so he can have his cake and eat it too. The כסיל rebels against the Torah while proclaiming that “his way” is just as legitimate as any other, and no one can prove him wrong. According to the כסיל, everything is just an interpretation, but his underlying motivation is to justify his behavior.
The אויל resembles the כסיל in his behavior, but the ideology behind it is very different. This type of fool refuses to acknowledge that truth even exists. He casts doubt on everything as a matter of principle, not as an excuse to justify his behavior. He believes skepticism is the highest form of enlightenment, and that there are only questions, never answers. Any behavior can be justified to the אויל, for nothing can ever be objectively true. The only people who must be fought are those who believe in God and, by extension, objective truth.
Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg in his commetary to Bereishis (19:24) writes that the word אויל has the same letters as the word אולי, which means maybe, because the אויל always says maybe this is true, or maybe that is true. Nothing is ever objectively true; he is always playing Devil’s advocate.
According to lashon hakodesh, such a person is by definition the worst sort of fool. Other fools have hope, but the dogmatic skepticism of the אויל masquerading as enlightenment makes it impossible for him to acquire wisdom or repent his evil ways. Mishlei provides instructions for how to respond to different kinds of fools, and incorporating these lessons will save wise people much grief and wasted time. A כסיל can be educated, but an אויל can only be punished to straighten out his ways.
What does all this have to do with Amalek? Everything.
As many people have noted, the numerical value of Amalek is the same as safek, doubt. Amalek is the arch-enemy of the Jewish people, as the descendants of this nation seek to remove God from the world. His weapon of choice is sowing doubt among God’s followers, which makes them vulnerable to eventual destruction. In essence, he is a missionary for the counter-religion of skepticism, though more seductive terms such as “enlightenment”, “open-mindedness”, and “progress” are generally favored.
If this sounds like a stretch, we need only examine our history with Amalek. Our first encounter with Amalek as a nation occurred in our infancy, before we had even received the Torah. According to Chazal, the nations of the world were understandably terrified of the Jewish people after the miracles in Egypt. Amalek left their land and sent an army after us into the desert to attack us, knowing they would be defeated, just to “cool down” the aura surrounding us. Their goal was to cast doubt on our – and God’s – invincibility, to desensitize the nations to the idea of fighting us, and they sacrificed their own people to accomplish this. Even though they were defeated, their brazenness to attack us after the unprecedented miracles in Egypt made the other nations rethink the most basic truth, that God was protecting us. Maybe Amalek knew something they didn’t.
Every detail of this episode amplifies the identity of Amalek as enemies of objective truth. According to the account in Parshas Zachor, Amalek specifically targeted the weak Jews who were straggling after the rest of the nation. Chazal state, perhaps but not necessarily metaphorically, that Amalek cut off the bris mila of these Jews and threw it mockingly at the heavens. It’s no coincidence that they targeted the covenant between Jews and God, and one of the mitzvos that is frequently targeted by our enemies for being “primitive” and “barbaric”.
Furthermore, these straggling Jews seem to refer not to the physically weak and infirm, but to the spiritually weak. The Jewish people were referred to as tired, weary, and, according to many commentaries, not God-fearing. The only casualties of the battle with Amalek were those who were waffling in their faith and commitment even after all they had just experienced. Those who straggle behind the nation, following them out of convenience more than commitment, are easy prey for Amalek.
Indeed, the Torah states that during this battle the Jews would gain the upper hand whenever Moshe’s hands were raised, and they would stumble when his hands were lowered due to fatigue. When the Jews are inspired and confident in their attachment to God, Amalek cannot harm them. When they have doubts, they are vulnerable.
Aharon and Chur helped support Moshe’s arms, and the Torah has an unusual way of describing it: “his hands were faith until the sun set”. It doesn’t say that his hands were stable, or firm, or raised, but that they were faith. That is the key ingredient for defeating Amalek, rock-solid faith.
We encountered Amalek again after the sin of the spies, when the Jewish people were plagued with doubts about everything. A group of Jews tried to rally and enter Israel against Moshe’s instructions, after the opportunity had already been lost. The Torah says that Amalek was first in going out to meet them, and Amalek destroyed this renegade army.
We encountered Amalek one more time in the desert, and once again the episode is intertwined with conviction and doubt. After Aharon died, the clouds of glory protecting the Jews were temporarily removed. As soon as word reached Amalek, they attacked the Jews, who felt exposed and vulnerable, and succeeded in taking a captive. In addition, Amalek came disguised as a different nation, to confuse the Jews when they prayed for victory.
The Torah juxtaposes Parshas Zachor with a warning not to even own faulty weights and measures that can be used to swindle people. Chazal derive from here that when the Jews are deceitful, Hashem sends Amalek to punish them. Considering the identity and modus operandi of Amalek, it is easy to fit the punishment to the crime.
Several generations later, King Shaul’s downfall was sealed when he failed to defeat Amalek precisely as instructed. Despite completely destroying the nation, he allowed the people to salvage animals to bring as sacrifices to Hashem and spared the king’s life temporarily. When the prophet Shmuel confronted him, Shaul insisted that he had carried out the mitzva properly. Although he had been commanded to utterly destroy the entire population and the animals, Shaul rationalized that the animals had been saved for a good purpose, and it didn’t really matter that Agag was still alive.
Because of these rationalizations, which sound entirely logical, Shaul lost his kingdom and the nation of Amalek was rebuilt, haunting the Jewish people ever since. Why can’t we spare the animals to bring them as sacrifices? What’s the big deal? What difference does it make if the king is taken captive instead of killed immediately? This is the insidious reasoning of Amalek. Shaul’s convictions were eroded ever so slightly, and Jewish history has been paved with tragedies for thousands of years as a result.
We learn from Shaul’s behavior that one who is merciful to the wicked will ultimately be cruel to the righteous. He spared the king of Amalek, our mortal enemy, yet wiped out an entire city of Kohanim, and managed to justify both. One who rationalizes that he can do a little better than the Torah’s laws, that he can be more merciful and moral than his Creator, will eventually support the most evil people and commit atrocities against the innocent. Once Amalek warps one’s moral compass ever so slightly, anything is possible.
After the war in which Shaul lost his life, an Amalekite youth approached David’s army and took credit for finishing off the wounded king. Knowing that Shaul had tried to murder David, the Amalekite expected to be rewarded for sharing the “good news” and killing David’s rival. Instead, David reacted with fury that someone would take credit for killing Hashem’s anointed king, and immediately executed the Amalekite. Amalek had attempted to erode David’s moral convictions with an entirely logical argument, but David stood firm with what he knew was true. This is the antidote for Amalek, the only way to defeat him. Indeed, for all the difficulties David faced during his life, he never had trouble from Amalek.
Many generations later, Haman, a descendant of Agag, threatened the Jewish people with extinction. How did he do this? By eroding the king’s morals, which were never strong to begin with. The Jews are different…they are of no value to you…it won’t harm your kingdom if you destroy them…I will pay you handsomely to let me take care of it.
It is no coincidence that the Jew who saved them was Mordechai, the only one who remained steadfast in the face of Haman. The other Jews rationalized that compromising was the prudent course of action, and they even resented Mordechai for refusing to compromise. But it was this very attribute that was the call of the hour, a refusal to back down, that was able to defeat this descendant of Amalek. When Esther was afraid to approach Achashverosh uninvited, Mordechai strengthened her faith with a dose of hard truth, and she became the agent of salvation for the Jewish people.
Amalek preys on the Jews when they weaken their faith and conviction in favor of “practical” considerations. Amalek falls when the Jews stand proud and don’t budge an inch.
The struggle is no different in our day. Amalek sees the final redemption of the Jews in progress, and he is waging an ideological war like never before. We are bombarded by anti-Torah “moral” arguments of all types, striking at the foundations of everything that is true and was always known to be true.
Killing children, the future of the human race, is portrayed as empowering women and quite a good thing for humanity. Trees have rights and animals have souls, but children can be murdered even after they are born. All manner of corrupt sexual behavior is celebrated and even claimed to be God’s will. Protecting one’s mortal enemies while sacrificing your own people is declared to be courageous and pragmatic, while destroying one’s enemies is declared a barbaric crime and a foolish strategy besides. Every lie and distortion must be indulged in the name of tolerance and equality, while those who believe in objective Torah truth must be ganged up upon and destroyed. Maybe this is right, maybe that is right, says Amalek. Those who have convictions and stick to their principles are BAD.
This is the ideology of Amalek, camouflaging ugliness and moral corruption in a beautiful package. Amalek urges intelligent people to become אוילים, questioning, doubting, and ultimately perverting every moral truth. Some are seduced by this ideology, even though deep down they know that it is corrupt. It is convenient for them to go with the flow, be celebrated by society, and indulge in forbidden behaviors without guilt. They become כסילים, the useful idiots of Amalek who advance their agenda even though they don’t really believe in it, for the sake of convenience.
The Torah says that God’s throne can never be complete in this world until Amalek is defeated. The only way to defeat Amalek is to stand firm and proud in the Torah’s convictions, refusing to even entertain the doubts that אוילים seek to cast on everything. What is right is right, what is wrong is wrong, only God gets to decide which is which, and we trust the tools that God has given us to determine His will. On this there is no room for compromise, period.
We don’t have to have answers to all the questions, and we don’t have to understand everything. In fact, we’re not supposed to. The Torah’s truth is abundantly clear, to the extent that we can take the more difficult aspects on faith.
Instead of allowing Amalek and those poisoned by his ideology of religious skepticism and moral corruption to suck you into endless arguments, while eroding your convictions, stand proud! Our job is not to convince Amalek, but to recognize that he is at war with us, and to win this war with the strength of our convictions.
Much of the world has already been corrupted by Amalek, and we only hope they can be saved with true enlightenment. There is hope for the כסילים of the world, and it is our job to fight Amalek by standing firm and proclaiming the unadulterated truth. If we lose faith or otherwise allow Amalek to erode our moral convictions, then we too will be prey to their evil ideology and their ultimate fate, God forbid.
Amalek will use every weapon at their disposal to fight us. We must use the one weapon they can never obtain, the one weapon that will ultimately defeat them.