With their unprovoked attack in the desert, Amaleik forever changed the collective consciousness of the world and the Jewish people.
It seems that after the miraculous events of the ten plagues and the splitting of the Red sea, the surrounding nations considered the Jewish People invincible. Attack them at your peril. They seem to have this powerful God on their side, yet Amaleik thought nothing of it.
The classical commentator, Rashi, quoting the Midrash, compares Amaleik’s attack to someone jumping into a bathtub full of scalding water. Although that person suffered burns, he cooled it down for everyone else (Midrash Tanchuma Hayashan Ki Tetizei – 13:1).
Although Amaleik was defeated, their attack opened the door for other nations to follow suit. However, attacking Jews wasn’t the only behavior that Amaleik modeled for others.
The perverse and pervasive legacy of Amaleik
The Midrash records another case where Amaleik’s actions influenced others, but this time those who were influenced were the Jewish People. The Torah describes Amaleiks attack:
אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ כׇּל־הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִ֣ים אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַתָּ֖ה עָיֵ֣ף וְיָגֵ֑עַ וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱלֹהִֽים׃
“They happened upon you when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear (Shemot, 25:17).
Midrash Tanchuma spells out a sordid detail which shows that it was indeed a brazen attack on God. When Amaleik killed a Jewish man they would cut off his circumcised organ and throw it towards the heavens. They would taunt God by saying:
“ בָּזֶה בָּחַרְתָּ, טֹל לְךָ מַה שֶׁבָּחַרְתְּ”
“You chose this [organ to be circumcised, here] take what You [God] have chosen.” (Or, You chose this people who are circumcised, take their circumcision) Midrash Tanchuma Ki Teitzei, 10:1).*
Unfortunately, a similarly depraved act was committed by Jews of the First Temple. The prophet Ezekiel provided cursory details
כְּעֶשְׂרִ֥ים וַחֲמִשָּׁ֖ה אִ֑ישׁ אֲחֹ֨רֵיהֶ֜ם אֶל־הֵיכַ֤ל יְהֹוָה֙ וּפְנֵיהֶ֣ם קֵ֔דְמָה וְהֵ֛מָּה מִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶ֥ם קֵ֖דְמָה לַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ׃
”…around twenty-five men with their backs toward the Temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, and they worshipped the sun toward the east” (Yechezkel, 8:16).
Talmud Kedushim 72B) fills in the details. The people that Ezekiel was describing were Jews worshiping idolatry (the sun god) in the holy Temple of Jerusalem. They not only had their backs to the sanctuary, they defecated on the Temple mount to show their utter disdain for God.
Where did this perverse expression of hatred for God come from? The Midrash says that the Jews learned it from Amaleik. Amaleik’s extreme hatred of God – as expressed through mutilation (see above) – seeped into the consciousness of the Jews. The commentator, Beur Ha-amorim, sees a hint of this psychological process in the words of the Torah which describes Amaleik’s attack (above) as וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ – “and their perversion entered into you” (Shemot, 25:17). The violent manner in which Amaleik expressed their hatred of God influenced the manner in which Jewish idolators acted out their hatred generations later. It’s as if the collective trauma of the Jewish people led them to carry out a similar pattern of abuse. It makes you wonder whether antisemitism is a contributing factor in the self-hating Jew? Apparently, some historians think so.**
Seeing the positive
The only silver lining is that just as acts of vile hatred can build on each other, so can acts of unbridled love and devotion to God. Exactly the kind of self sacrifice that has manifested itself so many times in Jewish history. Starting from our forefathers, and all the way down to family lore that we each have about sacrifices made by our grandparents, not so long ago. These acts also become part of the DNA of a Jew and provide reservoirs of courage and faith.
*Amaleik believed that everything in the world was random and the idea that there was a god running the world was an anathema to them. This is similar to the notion that the nazis hated the Jews because they represented a divine morality which the nazis fervently rejected. The nazis considered themselves to be the ultimate arbiters of morality in which genocide was entirely justified.
** The historian Bernard Wasserstein prefers the term “Jewish antisemitism,” which he says was often termed “Jewish self-hatred”. He asks, “Could a Jew be an antisemite?”, and responds that many Jews have “internalized elements of antisemitic discourse, succumbed to what Theodore Hamerow has called psychological surrender.”[vague] Wasserstein goes on to say that self-hating Jews, “afflicted by some form of antisemitism[,] were not so much haters of themselves as haters of ‘other’ Jews.”The historian Bernard Lewis described Jewish self-hatred as a neurotic reaction to the impact of anti-semitism by Jews accepting, expressing, and even exaggerating, the basic assumptions of the antisemite.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-hating_Jew