The Torah reading on Purim is the shortest reading of the year. It consists of only nine verses that describe a war with the Tribe of Amalek, a war that occurred immediately after the Egyptian exodus. This particular episode is particularly fitting for Purim as the wicked Haman, the villain of the Purim story, was the direct descendant of Agag, the King of Amalek, who was defeated by King Saul and killed by the prophet Samuel.
This war with the Tribe of Amalek was very short: Amalek attacked the Jewish People without provocation, Joshua led soldiers to counter-attack, and Moshe climbed a mountain, holding his hands skyward, until the Jews were victorious. All of this happened in only two days. The problem is that the war could have been over in only one day had Moshe not voluntarily extended it [Shemot 17:9]: “Moshe said to Joshua, ‘Choose some men for us and go out and do battle with Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill, with the rod of G-d in my hand’”. Why did Moshe wait twenty four hours before stationing himself on the top of the hill? Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, who lived in Pinsk and in Jerusalem in the previous century, notes in “Oznayim LaTorah” that the side that initiates a war has the luxury of starting the battle at a time and a location that maximize the probability of achieving its military goals. The side that is attacked, however, does not have this luxury. It must return fire immediately so as not to find itself in a position from which it cannot extricate itself. Amalek attacked the Jewish people. Why does Moshe delay before fighting back?
Two contemporary rabbis, Rabbi Mendel Farber of Shapell’s Darché Noam Yeshiva and Rabbi Itzik Amar of Torah MiTzion, address this question using a philosophical approach. The Tribe of Amalek represents chance and chaos. Amalek does not believe in destiny. Amalek’s credo is “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”. Amalek is not interested in tomorrow. Amalek is interested only in the here and now. This ideology is antithetical to Jewish thought. Rabbi Farber writes, “Our whole history is a journey towards the future”. To reinforce this message, Moshe waits one full day before returning fire. Rabbi Farber and Rabbi Amar point to a verse in the Book of Esther that further reinforces this message. In order to foil Haman’s dastardly plan for genocide, Queen Esther tries to convince the king that she and Haman have been romancing behind his back and she invites both of them to a party. The king’s curiosity is piqued and he asks Esther what is on her mind. She cryptically answers [Esther 5:8] “Let Your Majesty and Haman come to the feast which I will prepare for them; and tomorrow I will do Your Majesty’s bidding”. The sun will rise tomorrow – a day that means nothing to Haman and everything to me – and then I will defeat him.
While the answers proposed by Rabbis Farber and Amar are spiritually satisfying, they remain in the domain of “drash” – “deep learning”. In the domain of “peshat” – the simple meaning of scripture, or “what really happened” – their explanations fall short. Rabbi Sorotzkin offers a solution to his own question that, while admittedly possessing a midrashic flavor, is still firmly rooted in “peshat”. The Torah teaches that when the Jewish People left Egypt, they were accompanied by [Shemot 13:21] “a pillar of cloud by day… and a pillar of fire by night”. These two pillars served a number of purposes. According to our Sages in the Midrash, they protected the Jewish People from the elements and they also flattened the path in front of them, like a bulldozer, to facilitate their desert trek. Rashi, the most famous of the medieval commentators, who lived in France in the eleventh century, adds another purpose to the list. In his commentary to Shemot [19:4], he writes that at the Sea of Reeds, “the Egyptians were casting arrows and stone missiles and the Cloud of Glory caught these”. In other words, the Cloud of Glory was an early version of Iron Dome, intercepting ancient Egyptian rockets, artillery shells, and mortars. According to Rashi, the only people who were killed by Amalek were those people whom, for some reason, found themselves outside the protection of the Cloud of Glory. The reason that Moshe and Joshua did not return fire immediately is because they did not need to. The Cloud of Glory afforded them the luxury of time with which they could plan and execute a well-orchestrated counter-attack.
This explanation can shine light on one of the least understood commandments in the Torah. After Amalek is defeated, G-d promises [Shemot 17:14] “I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven!” To implement this promise, the Torah commands [Devarim 25:19] “After G-d grants you safety from all your enemies around you… you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” This directive is anchored in normative Jewish Law. No similar decree exists regarding any other nation, even though over the years, too many nations to count have launched unprovoked wars against the Jewish People. Why is Amalek singled out? Numerous explanations have been proposed. One is that Amalek, being the first nation to attack Israel after the exodus, exposed our vulnerability and spurred other nations to attack. Another explanation suggests that Amalek, being the descendant of Jacob’s brother Esav, is our national nemesis and so must be eliminated.
I propose a much more prosaic solution. Missile Defense systems like Iron Dome, precisely because they work so well, can have an adverse effect of substituting defense for offense. If we are not suffering casualties, if downtown Tel Aviv is not on fire, if there is no national outcry, do we really need to risk the lives of our soldiers in yet another Gaza offensive? Would it not be a better idea to show restraint. This argument has been voiced nearly every time the Gazans have opened fire on Israel since Iron Dome became operational in March of 2011. The same argument could have been used in the war against Amalek: If the Cloud of Glory was protecting the Jewish People, why not show restraint? Why not just wait for Amalek to vent their frustration? Eventually they will come to the realization that they can do us no real harm and they will leave us alone.
The war against Amalek was the first war that the Jewish People fought as a nation. It was wrought with significance. It would serve as the archetype for all future wars. And so Moshe extends the war by one day. He climbs a mountain and in full view of his people, he raises his hands skywards and Amalek is routed [Shemot 17:13]: “Joshua overwhelmed the people of Amalek with the sword.” Make no mistake: There is no greater value in Judaism than peace. The Talmud in Tractate Gittin [59b] teaches, “The entire Torah is for the sake of the ways of peace”. Nevertheless, the Torah’s message is made loud and clear: when a war must be fought, it is not over until the enemy has been defeated.
A similar point is made in the story of Purim. The Book of Esther could have ended after the eighth chapter: Haman’s plan for genocide has been discovered, he and his co-conspirators are killed, Queen Esther reveals that she is Jewish, and her uncle, Mordechai, is appointed Grand Vizier in Haman’s stead. Only a fool would to try to mess with the Jews. Indeed, the Book of Esther testifies [8:17] “Many of the people of the land professed to be Jews, for the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them”. It was time to let the healing begin. And yet, the Book of Esther contains a ninth chapter in which the Jewish People attack their would-be assailants and route them. The holiday of Purim was declared only after the soldiers had declared victory. The war is not over until the enemy has been defeated.
This is the message of Moshe’s “tomorrow”: When you fight a war, fight to win. Fight as if there is no tomorrow.
Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Purim.
Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5781
Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Eli bat Ilana, and Iris bat Chana.
 Rabbi Yaakov Meidan of Yeshivat Har Etzion connects the war against Amalek with the previous episode in which Moshe hits a rock in order to provide water to the Jewish People. According to Rav Meidan, Moshe and Joshua were a day’s distance from the camp, meaning that a counter-attack could not be waged for the first twenty-four hours. If we follow Rav Meidan’s path, our lesson ends right here.
 This is based on the verse that Amalek [Devarim 25:18] “happened upon you on the way”.
 See, for example, Sefer HaChinuch, Parashat Ki Tetze, that states that this commandment is eternally and universally valid, even during peace-time.
 This explanation meshes well with the above explanations of Rabbi Farber and Rabbi Amar.