Elie is off from the army this weekend, but has chosen to spend Shabbat at the yeshiva he attended before entering the army. It is one of the Shabbatot (Sabbaths) that the boys gather together – those who are released from the army, like a pilgrimage. They sleep where there is room, years and years worth of graduates, coming back to meet friends from the past, see their rabbis and teachers.
They gather at significant times – Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, and this weekend, Parshat Zachor. This is the portion of the Torah that is read once a year and it contains the story of Amalek, may his name be cursed and erased. We are commanded, “Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt.” (Dvarim/Deuteronomy 25).
And exactly what Amalek did is read out for each to hear. We are commanded to listen to each word, to remember. What did Amalek do? As the Jews were leaving Egypt, the Torah explains, Amalek struck the back of the long procession where the weak, the sick, the elderly were slowly following our leader, Moshe Rabbenu (Moses). This was the work of cowardice, an ancient terrorist who knew it was easier to attack those who could not fight back. For his cowardly act, Amalek was sentenced to be remembered and cursed, his name and ancestors forever damned.
Though the Jews were commanded to wipe out the Amalekites, they showed mercy when they should not have. Amalek himself was allowed to survive the battle and his descendents went on to plague the Jewish people for centuries. The sinister Haman, assistant to the king of Shushan, Persia, attempted to have all the Jews of Shushan exterminated in his anger and hatred towards the Jews. Though science cannot prove that Hitler was a descendent of Amalek, few doubt that only one such as Amalek could have eventually fathered such evil as we saw in Hitler. And even today, our modern-day Amaleks – Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad, and others continue to follow Amalek’s way.
Hitler did not attack the army of the Jewish people because we had no army in that day. He took the women and the children, the scholars and rabbis. He took those who were not trained to resist, and even those who tried, in some small measure to fight back. Nasrallah bombed the cities of our north where the innocent lived, and fled in the face of our army, just as today Hamas regularly sends rockets into Sderot and Ashkelon to kill and terrorize. And Ahmadinejad promises that Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth – these are today’s Amaleks, who we must remember.
Tomorrow, Elie will stand amongst his friends and listen as the portion describing what Amalek did to his people so many centuries ago is read aloud. He will stand with an M16 strapped to his back, and a promise, a pledge he has made to his nation, in his heart. There will be no more Amaleks, no more Hamans. The next Hitler that arises will face the power and the might of the soldiers of Israel.
Yesterday, I had a business-related meeting in the coastal city of Caesaria. I agreed to drive up further north to meet Elie and drive him home. Hopefully, it saved him a few hours on the buses and trains, but it also gave me time to talk and hear about what he has been doing over the last 12 days since he returned from his few days at home.
We talked about many things, one of which was his daily requirement to read their “mission” to his soldiers. I found this part fascinating and asked what he meant. Each day, the soldiers gather together, and Elie reminds them why they guard Israel’s borders, what Hizbollah is and what it wants to accomplish. It is a daily reminder, not because the soldiers might forget, but because it is so important. I don’t know if any other army does this, but I think that they should – I know that we should. You guard our borders and protect our people, Elie’s mission statement probably reads.
I doubt the name “Amalek” is included in this mission Elie reads to his soldiers, but the message is the same. They would attack us, the weakest amongst us, the innocent who need our protection. It is your goal, your mission, soldiers of Israel, to do what centuries ago our enemies denied our people the opportunity. There were no Jewish soldiers there when Amalek attacked, as there were no soldiers to defend the Jews who were murdered in Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Maidanek, Treblinka, and so many other places.
This time, Amalek will face a Jewish army. This time, we will fight back. This time, Elie and his soldiers will protect those who were not protected. We will not forget Amalek, but even more importantly, we will not let Amalek strike us again – not from the north and not from the south. This time, unlike the time when the Nazis came, our soldiers will meet them in battle.
Tomorrow Elie will hear the challenge, the real reason why each day he and his soldiers hear their mission. It all comes down to the simplest of reasons – because we must remember what Amalek did to us when we left Egypt, and what Haman tried to do, and what Hitler did, and what Hamas and Hizbollah and the Iranians would do – if not for the sons of Israel who guard our borders, and the God of Israel, who guards our sons.