For the merchant, even honesty is a financial speculation. — Charles Baudelaire
In retelling the history of the young Jewish nation, Moses recounts the battle against the nation of Amalek. The original account in Exodus states that the Amalekites fought with Israel in Refidim. Then it provides more details of the battle itself, Joshua’s leadership of the armed forces, Moses’ visual leadership (standing atop the mountain) and the positive effect of his raised hands, the Israelite victory, and finally, God’s directive to remember his promise to wipe out the memory of Amalek.
Here in Deuteronomy, we get an additional perspective. Moses recalls how the Amalekites ambushed Israel shortly after the exodus from Egypt. They attacked the stragglers in the rear of the Israelite march, at a point where Israel is described as tired and hungry and not fearful of God.
The Bechor Shor on Deuteronomy 25:18 tries to understand the added nuances in this recap and what it’s trying to convey.
He focuses on the word we translated as “the stragglers” which in Hebrew is “hanecheshalim.” In his interpretation, the Bechor Shor flips two of the letters, pronouncing “hanechelashim,” which can be translated as “the weakened.”
It seems that the Amalekites focused on the stragglers and found a roundabout way to weaken them. He explains that the Amalekites approached the stragglers peaceably, pretending to be merchants. They offered these straggling Israelites different wares and merchandise. The Amalekites took their time and prolonged the negotiations. They gave a long, drawn-out sales pitch.
Eventually, these straggling Israelites realized that the rest of Israelite camp had gotten way ahead of them. The ensuing struggle to catch up weakened them. That’s when the Amalekites pounced. They had isolated and weakened their prey.
Part of the reason for the unique abhorrence God has for the Amalekites is their duplicitous, underhanded attack, preying on the weak, gullible and feeble-minded.
May we beware of slick and prolonged sales pitches and may we realize the value of not straying too far from the rest of our people.
To all the firefighters combating the Jerusalem fire.