It is difficult to forget the call “Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall come about when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.” A terrible, relentless and unforgiving demand to take revenge when the opportunity comes. However, in this same portion of the Torah we also find some words which are completely different, “You shall not detest an Edomite, for he is your brother; you shall not detest an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land.” One can understand the connections of the Edomite being the sons of Esso and the familial relationship. But the Egyptians? Those who sent boys to their deaths in the river by the order of their ruler? Those who tried to trap them between their army and the sea where only a miracle saved them from dire consequences?
The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah 419. Joshua fighting Amalek. Exodus cap 17 vv 8-13
Actually in this week’s portion of the Torah we see three cases of two different kinds. The Amalek is to be wiped off of the face of the earth, not only the people but everything that can remind us of them. Unlike the Amalek, for the Edomite, despite the difficulties in getting passage to the People of Israel on their way to the promised land there is a different standard, and so it is also to the Egyptians, despite slavery and hard work. In this other two cases the standard is different and one is not allowed to detest them. The reason given for not detesting the Egyptian is “because you were an alien in his land.” There is no family relationship, they are not brothers; however there is a moral debt and therefore they are very different from the Amalek. It does not mean that one may not fight the Edomite or the Egyptians, that can actually happen, but it cannot be a result of holding grudges from what happened in the past but rather for what happens in the present. This avoids an unnecessary war simply because something is held against these Peoples and therefore detesting them is prohibited. When we hate someone it is very easy to resort into dangerous behaviors that can get us into big trouble for no good reason at all.
The political discourse in Israel and elsewhere provides us way to many examples of abusive, vulgar, and violent language of groups clashing at each other. It seems not to be enough these days to simply say that we are in disagreement with a policy or opinion of that or another politician, rather, words of hatred and detest are haphazardly used. There are of course those who willingly use these words to increase the flames that spiral upwards dangerously. In this portion of the Torah we are provided with explanation of different situations, their relative difference, and when it is justified to use sever punishment and when we should be keeping our cool.
Restrain and moderation is a conduct that we are expected to follow and we find that again in our readings of this week. It is noted that “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it” but with some reservation, “if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you.” If one has made a vow then one is expected to follow on it, but a hint is given than maybe, just maybe, restraint and moderation calls for not making a vow in the first place. We read that also again in a totally different context, “When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you shall not put any in your basket.” Restrain and moderation is the conduct that we are expected to follow. Extremities are just that, they are rare and should not be the norm – those should have unique solutions, just like with the Amalek. In other case we better stop for a while, think for a moment, take in the big picture. Sometimes the big picture involves a family member, sometimes it is someone we owe even when we need to be reminded of that fact.
Reuven Marko, 24 August 2018, 14 Elul, 5778