Ari Sacher

“The Head of the Snake” Parashat Tetzaveh – Zachor 5778

Last week an Iranian military drone entered Israeli airspace on a reconnaissance mission. About ninety seconds after it crossed over the Syrian border into the Golan Heights it was shot down by an Israeli AH-64 Apache helicopter. In retaliation, Israeli aircraft took out the drone control station, which was manned by Iranian soldiers, deep in Syrian territory. And then for good measure they took out a large chunk of Syria’s air defence[1]. While this incident is concerning in a multitude of ways, the greatest concern by far is that not only did Iran impinge on Israeli sovereignty, but they did it from Syria. Last August I toured Israel with a number of congressmen.  We met with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence, and the upper echelons of the IDF. Every single Israeli official we spoke with warned the Americans of the threat of an Iranian “land bridge” with which Iran, through their proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, would rule over a contiguous swath of land stretching from Tehran all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. For Israel the threat of Iranian hegemony in the Levant is nothing less than existential. For this reason Israeli leaders have made it abundantly clear to anyone willing to listen that they will not accept an Iranian military presence in their neighbourhood and that they will take all necessary steps to ensure this does not happen. The events of last week are evidence of Israel’s resolve.

This week we read Parashat Zachor, in which we are commanded to remember how the nation of Amalek attacked Am Yisrael just after they left Egypt. We are told [Devarim 25:19] “It will be when Hashem, your G-d, gives you rest from all of your enemies, in the land that Hashem, your G-d, has given you as an inheritance, blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens, do not forget”. There is something counterintuitive about this commandment: If Amalek is our nemesis and if the world is incomplete so long as Amalek is around, why must we wait until we defeat all of our other enemies before destroying Amalek? Should Israel take on Hezbollah, Syria, and perhaps the Houthis in Yemen before taking on Iran? Wouldn’t it make more sense to cut off the head of the snake?

Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch addresses this question. He answers that before taking on Amalek, it is critical that we be aware that it is “Hashem, [our] G-d” who has “given [us] rest from [our] enemies” and not our own military prowess. Only after we have internalized that we cannot win any war without Divine intervention will we be prepared for Amalek. The obvious question is why this awareness is required only when we square off against Amalek but not against any of our other enemies.

My wife, Tova, noticed another anomaly in the verse. If we are commanded to destroy Amalek only after defeating “all of our enemies”, it must mean that Amalek is not considered “one of our enemies”. We addressed this question in an earlier shiur[2], where we suggested that Amalek was not the nemesis of Am Yisrael, but, rather, the nemesis of Hashem[3]. What was so special about Amalek that made him Hashem’s personal enemy? In our earlier shiur we quoted Rav J.B. Soloveichik, who said that Amalek “hated the Jewish religion, the Jews’ uniqueness, their determination to cling to their faith and uphold Torah”. Our Sages teach that there are seventy ways of interpreting the Torah. This week we are going to take a different direction. The Torah describes how Amalek [Devarim 25:18] “happened upon you (kar’cha) along the way”. Rav Tzadok HaKohen from Lublin, writing in “Resisei Layla” asserts that Amalek’s war against Hashem was ideological. Amalek believed that nature worked by well-defined laws and that Hashem was helpless to break these laws. Amalek believed that everything that occurs on earth does so by happenstance.

The entire story of Purim can be seen as one long chain of coincidences: King Achashverosh just happened to choose Esther over all the other women in the Persian Empire to be his queen. Mordechai just happened to overhear a plot to kill the king. The king just happened to open his Book of Chronicles to the page upon which it was written that Mordechai saved his life but was not rewarded. Haman, a descendant of Agag, the King of Amalek, saw nature in disarray. Mordechai and Esther saw the Hand of Hashem guiding events. If we want to rid the world of Amalek, if we want to rid the world of his ideology, then we must force ourselves to acknowledge Hashem in places where it is not always comfortable to do so, specifically, on the battlefield[4].

The evil of Amalek as explained by Rav Tadok of Lublin is diametrically opposed to the evil of Amalek as explained by Rav Soloveichik. According to Rav Soloveichik, Amalek is pure evil. The concept of sanctity is alien to him. He sees the willingness to subjugate one’s self to a higher power as silly and childish. According to Rav Tzadok, Amalek sees a place for both the sacred and the profane. Amalek’s problem is that he sees no room for overlap between the two[5]. The Divine remains detached from our corporeal world and can never intervene in nature. This understanding can give us new insight into the words of the Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin [20b] “Three mitzvot were commanded to the Children of Israel when they entered the Land [of Israel]: the appointment of a king, the destruction of Amalek, and the building of the Beit HaMikdash”. The Talmud asserts that the three mitzvot must be performed in a specific order: First a king must be appointed, then the king must lead Am Yisrael into battle against Amalek, and after Amalek is defeated the king must build the Beit HaMikdash. The Talmud brings an assortment of verses in order to prove its point. For instance, when the verse states [Devarim 12:10-11]: “[Hashem] will give you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety; then it shall come to pass that the place that Hashem shall choose to cause His name to dwell there, there shall you bring all that I command you” it is clear that first Am Yisrael must defeat their enemies and then, and only then, can they build the Beit HaMikdash.

The order in which these commandments must be performed mirrors the logic of Rav Tzadok. The first step is the appointment of a king. Rav Mosheh Liechtenstein asserts that the reason that Judaism espouses monarchy over all other types of rule is that so the king should serve as a metaphor for Hashem: Just as one powerful mortal king rules over Am Yisrael, one A-lmighty G-d rules over the entire universe. The first mitzvah we are commanded to perform in the Land of Israel is the awareness of the infinite power of Hashem. Next, we are commanded to destroy Amalek and his perverse philosophy of limiting Hashem by denying Him mastery over our world. Finally, after destroying Amalek we are commanded to build the Beit HaMikdash, an edifice made of brick and stone that somehow serves as a conduit, ushering Hashem’s infinite presence into our finite world.

May we merit blotting out Amalek and his descendants[6] so that we can rebuild the Beit HaMikdash and reopen a conduit that has been closed for nearly two thousand years[7].


Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5778

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Tzvi ben Freida, and Yoav ben Chaya.

[1] One Israeli F-16 was hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile. The pilots ditched the aircraft over Israeli territory. Both pilots were injured, one seriously.

[2] Beshalach 5778

[3] Rav Binyamin Sofer offers two proofs for this hypothesis: [1] Amalek “did not fear [specifically] Hashem”, and [2] the Torah [Shemot 17:16] promises “an eternal war of Hashem against Amalek”.

[4] The military is the ultimate “Guy thing”. No general wants to admit he received help from some deity.

[5] This innovation belongs to Rav Nir Weinberg, the Rav of Hazorim.

[6] Rav Moshe Soloveichik teaches that any nation that strives to destroy Am Yisrael is the embodiment of Amalek. Enough said.

[7] This week’s parasha is Parashat Tetzaveh, one of the four parshiyot that discuss the building of the Mishkan and its vessels. It is fitting that Parashat Zachor is nearly always read together with one of these four parshiyot, as it was the Mishkan that blazed the path for the Beit HaMikdash [Shemot 25:8]: “They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst”.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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