As we read the parashah of remembering what Amalek did to us, there are a number of areas we can examine. What are the reasons for this mitzvah? Are there contemporary applications to this mitzvah? What take-home messages exist in remembering this parashah?
The Rishonim essentially cite six reasons for the mitzvah of remembering Amalek and what they had done.
- The Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvos 189, Hilchos Melachim 5:5) and Ramban (Devarim 25:7) explain that it is so that we will retain an antipathy toward them and thus destroy them.
- The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 603) explains that it is so we will know that whomever troubles the nation of Israel is hated in the eyes of the Holy One and will be punished.
- Rashi (Devarim 25:17) indicates that the reason is so that we will take care not to sin.
- The Pirkei D’Rav Eliezer explains that we remember that we had sinned and that we do teshuvah on that account.
- The SMaK explains that we remember that Hashem saves us from the hand of our enemies, and through this we will refrain from sinning.
- The Sifrei D’Bei Rav explains that we should daven to Hashem that He wipe out Amalek’s name since Hashem’s Name is not complete while Amalek yet exists.
- The Alshich explains that wiping out Amalek nowadays refers to the tumah impact that Amalek made upon the nation of Israel. This is what we must wipe out from our hearts. This impact is what makes genuine avodas Hashem difficult.
Amalek Is Ga’avah
The Ba’al Shem Tov explains that the modern-day manifestation of Amalek is ga’avah, haughtiness or conceit. Thus, the manner in which to eliminate Amalek in contemporary times is through eliminating ga’avah. This is brought down in his name in a work titled Kavod HaTorah. In Gematria, “ram,” which means lofty or conceited, is equivalent to Amalek.
Two Types Of Ga’avah
Contemporary roshei yeshiva explain that there are actually two types of ga’avah. There is true haughtiness, and there is a haughtiness that comes about through low self-esteem. It develops out of a defense mechanism brought on by a need to avoid the pain that comes with low self-esteem.
As an example: A child is taken out of class because a school has decided that he is struggling. He may have undergone a trauma — losing a parent or sibling, a divorce in the family, or some other reason. The other students note that he is being pulled out and they begin making fun of him or calling him stupid. He feels intense emotional pain. He responds with, “I am not stupid; you are stupid.”
And that is how it begins. The cycle of defense mechanism haughtiness continues.
Believe it or not, we can learn from the notion of a brain stroke how to eradicate ga’avah. It is important to identify the root cause of the ga’avah because then it is treated differently. If the ga’avah is born of low self-esteem, then the correct treatment is to build up the person rather than to put him in his place. Since the root cause is low self-esteem, one should work on trying to build up his self-esteem in true things. If one puts him in his place, then the situation has not been addressed and one has exacerbated the situation. It has been made worse, not better.
There are two major types of strokes that work very differently. There is an ischemic stroke and a hemorrhagic stroke.
Ischemic strokes occur when a vessel supplying blood to the brain is obstructed. They account for about 87 percent of all strokes. Fatty deposits lining the vessel walls, called atherosclerosis, are the main cause for ischemic stroke. Fatty deposits can cause two types of obstruction. Cerebral thrombosis is a thrombus (blood clot) that develops at the fatty plaque within the blood vessel. Cerebral embolism is a blood clot that forms at another location in the circulatory system, usually the heart and large arteries of the upper chest and neck. Part of the blood clot breaks loose, enters the bloodstream and travels through the brain’s blood vessels until it reaches vessels too small to let it pass. A main cause of embolism is an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation. It can cause clots to form in the heart, dislodge, and travel to the brain.
Hemorrhagic strokes make up about 13 percent of stroke cases. They are caused by a weakened vessel that ruptures and bleeds into the surrounding brain. The blood accumulates and compresses the surrounding brain tissue.
The two types of hemorrhagic strokes are intracerebral (within the brain): hemorrhage or subarachnoid hemorrhage. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures. Two types of weakened blood vessels usually cause hemorrhagic stroke: aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations (AVMs).
How They Are Treated
There are medicines called vasodilators and vasoconstrictors, each intended as a specific treatment where indicated by the underlying cause, and obviously they will only be helpful if it’s the correct treatment for that case. Along that vein, someone who is suffering from low self esteem induced ga’avah should not be “put in his place,” which would be like treating his condition with the wrong medication.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com