We Have Met Amalek, And He Is Us
Happy Purim! It’s time to pretend that we are not who we really are – as if we didn’t do that on a daily basis.
The Mitzvot of Purim include an injunction to drink alcohol until we can no longer distinguish between Good and Evil. Recently, community leaders and rabbis have come out against overindulgence, particularly by the youth. There must be a way, they say, to celebrate Purim without engaging in alcohol abuse. To our credit, the observant Jewish community is inching towards awareness of social ills – drug and alcohol abuse, sexual predation – slowly, but there are glimmers of promise.
Good news, friends! In my capacity as an Orthodox rabbi, I offer a Psak Halacha (legal ruling): this year we are Patur – exempt – from the requirement to drink alcohol. The reason is simple: we have proven that we are no longer capable of differentiating between Good and Evil. Let the celebrations begin!
Five years ago, thank God, I at last made Aliyah and now live in Jerusalem. My New Jersey neighbors were excited: “You’re going to live the dream!” they chortled. For me, living in Israel was no misty vision, but the consequence and moral imperative of my choice to live as an observant Jew. I prayed three times each day to be returned to our ancestral homeland. “Dude,” God said, “buy a plane ticket!” The Torah is a book of obligations. We are not given the Land of Israel; we are obligated to make the Land of Israel a just and righteous home for all who live within its borders.
Regarding the violence that characterizes our ongoing occupation of the West Bank, people rush to reassure me. “It’s only a tiny minority,” I hear repeatedly. “They don’t represent the true values of the settler movement.” Very well. I offer the “good” settlers an opportunity to set the record straight: please, gather in your hundreds of thousands and denounce the pogrom that took place in Huwara. If that behavior truly goes against your values, where is your collective outrage?
Israel’s military and intelligence services are capable of entering the dense neighborhoods of the refugee camps, cordoning off areas to prevent armed locals from interfering while they extract three, or five, or seven heavily armed terrorists from a residential building. How did this same combination of intelligence and military sophistication fail utterly while several hundred Jews rampaged through Huwara? “We’re powerless!” military officers reported in the midst of the fray. If you believe that, imagine the scenario if four hundred Palestinians rampaged through Efrat.
Make no mistake: the existential threat to the Jewish State and the Jewish people is real and undiminished. I stand in constant awe and gratitude to our armed forces and our security apparatus. I connect fervently to the prayer for the safety of our security services and military, and equally with the prayer that our captives be returned. I mourn our victims of murder, each of whom is proof of the historic reality that Jewish blood is cheap.
Each year at Purim we are exhorted to “wipe out the memory of Amalek.” Amalek, our eternal enemy, appears in many guises – no longer a people, but an idea. Amalek takes advantage of our weaknesses, he pounces when we are exhausted and inveigles us to despair when our faith is weak. Amalek’s hatred is so great that he will gladly destroy himself to attain his goals.
I do not pretend to know what constitutes Justice, whether within Israel proper or in the West Bank, nor in the rest of God’s world. I do know that preventing people from living in safety and dignity is unjust and that when we do injustice to others, we do great injustice to ourselves. The rabbis understood that the master/slave relationship subjugates both parties. No one who dominates another is truly free, and continued domination of others destroys both master and slave. Our children are taught from the earliest age that many empires have tried to dominate us – Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome – all have faded into oblivion while we continue to survive. Praise God!
Some 300-400 Jews descended on Huwara. They murdered at least one person – I also heard an unconfirmed report that an infant died of smoke inhalation – burned dozens of homes, businesses, and automobiles. The normalization of Jewish terror against Palestinians is nothing new, nor is the Huwara rampage anomalous, so kindly stop the hand-wringing. The proof is in our oh-so-kosher pudding: the “reasonable, moral settlers” are not enraged by the pogrom. The entire week after the violence, the residents of Huwara were kept under lockdown by the Israeli military, “for their own protection.” Several hundred peaceful, unarmed Israelis were barred – some with excessive force – from visiting in a show of sympathy. Meanwhile, those same settlers who perpetrated the violence continued to roam the streets of Huwara unhindered, and settler attacks on Palestinian communities continued unimpeded for the next day or more. As of this writing, only two Jews are being held in connection with the violence. True to type, Ben Gvir is demanding that they be freed.
I live in Israel because the Torah tells me to. But Israel is not our land, it is God’s, peopled by multiple ethnic groups, all with two things in common: we are all profoundly connected to this land, and we are all – equally – created in the image of God. For me, Zionism was never a “dream.” It’s a responsibility, requiring hard work and dedication to justice and morality on both the personal and national levels. Now all vestiges of the dream appear to have been shattered. Will Zionism become the nightmare from which we try to awake?