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Steve Rodan

The First Encounter With Amalek

Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. [Exodus 17:8]

It was a tough few weeks for Moses and Aaron. First, they had to organize the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt — several million in all. They had to deal with the masses of gentiles who joined the Jews. A week later, Israel was staring at a blitzkrieg of the Egyptian military that cornered the Jews at the shores of the Red Sea. Israel was saved by miracle after miracle.

And then came Amalek with murder in their eyes.

The world watched in awe as G-d decimated Pharoah and his forces. All of them refrained from attacking the victorious Israel as they moved pass them and made their way toward their homeland.

Amalek was the exception. The descendants of Esau came from a long way through the southern desert to attack Israel in the Sinai. They had no fear of G-d. Indeed, they were ready to battle G-d, but had to settle for His people.

The commentators equate Amalek with pure hatred. His father, Eliphaz, spent time with Jacob and was influenced by the patriarch and his devotion to G-d. Eliphaz’s son Amalek was raised in Esau’s house and grew up on his grandfather’s hatred of Jacob and his children. Like the most pathological of Israel’s enemies, Amalek’s rage was fueled by a sense of inferiority and victimhood. Esau’s mother was a concubine named Timna and the tribe lived south in what became known as the Negev.

This would be a different war from that with Egypt at the Red Sea. There, G-d commanded Israel to keep moving and not fear. They would be be under divine protection. With Amalek, G-d did not tell Moses anything. Rather, Moses ordered his aide Joshua to launch a counter-attack.

So, Moses said to Joshua, Pick men for us, and go out and fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand. Joshua did as Moses had told him, to fight against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur ascended to the top of the hill. [17:9-10]

The Ramban, the acronym for Moses Ben Nachman, says the battle with Amalek marked the first time the Jews went to war as a people. But only the best would be sent to the front. They weren’t trained fighters. Nobody was. Their attribute was their fear of G-d. That meant that they did not fear Amalek and their powers.

As the battle raged, the rest of Israel joined Moses in prayer. The leader raised his hand to G-d and the people responded. Moses had a lot to pray for: He knew that Amalek was a warrior nation as well as experts in magic. The Jews had little more than a history of slavery. Israel would need all the divine help they could get.

Amalek had waited long for this moment. The sages say this nation knew Israel better than anybody else. Amalek could have decimated Jacob and his sons on their way to Egypt 210 years earlier. But they believed that had they succeeded G-d would have forced Amalek to resettle in Egypt and become slaves of Pharaoh. As much as they hated Jacob, they weren’t prepared to do that.

So, Amalek waited centuries until G-d liberated Israel and destroyed Egypt. They knew the former slaves were weak physically and spiritually. Amalek would always thrive on targeting the poor and feeble.

Through Moses, G-d ensured success for Joshua. The commanders of Amalek were wiped out. But G-d stopped Joshua from total victory. The weaker fighters were allowed to escape and plan revenge for another day.

Amalek would have their revenge. Their descendants, Rome, destroyed the Second Temple and drove Israel into exile, where they languished for nearly 2,000 years. Through Rome, Amalek would use every means to oppress the Jews, whether through the church, inquisitions, expulsions, pogroms and finally Germany and its Final Solution. Amalek’s genocidal agenda would continue through such actors as Iran, Hamas and their supporters in the West.

Between wars, Amalek would employ propaganda, libel, boycotts and anything that would hurt Israel. The sages say they would be successful in recruiting assimilated Jews for their agenda. They would become so skilled that often Israel would have no idea who their enemies were. Amalek was able to speak numerous languages and disguise themselves as other nations, particularly the Canaanites, who charged that Israel stole their land.

Amalek would become Israel’s eternal enemy. The great commentator Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, known as Rashi, says G-d would summon Amalek when the Jews became haughty and forget their heavenly father. Then, Amalek would attack, and Israel would forget their hubris and cry out to G-d. Then, G-d would defend His people and Amalek would return to their lair.

As he sat on the hill that overlooked the battle, Moses knew what Amalek would do. He was determined to show leadership and pray for victory no matter what the personal cost. He raised his hands toward heavens to show Israel that victory could only come from G-d. He would remain in this position for hours or longer until Amalek was defeated. The sages say Moses’ behavior was to serve as the model for his successors.

G-d told Israel that Amalek would return. And then, Israel must take revenge. But even a weak Amalek would be crafty, able to fool King Saul that the progeny of Esau were law-abiding and a bastion of humanity. One day, however, Amalek would stand in divine judgement bereft of its sweet words and brutal force.

The Lord said to Moses, Inscribe this [as] a memorial in the book, and recite it into Joshua’s ears, that I will surely obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. [Exodus 17:14]

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.