Zachor: Amalek and Shabbos
Parshat Zachor (Deuteronomy 25:17-19 )
To give us an idea of the intense wickedness of the nation of Amalek, our Sages make the following assertion:
Amalek is the opposite of Shabbos. (Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer 43:1)
To explain this rather strange statement, my holy father offered the following explanation: The Ten Commandments appear in the Torah on two occasions, in Shemos, chapter 20 and in Devarim, chapter 5, in slightly different versions. It is well known in Jewish thought that the first of these is the text that was inscribed on the first set of tablets, which were eventually broken by Moshe. The variation in Devarim is the version of the commandments which appeared on the second, replacement set of tablets. Different reasons for the observance of Shabbos are given in each.
For in six days God made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore, God blessed the day of Shabbos, and He made it holy. (Shemos 20:11)
Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the day of Shabbos.(Devarim 5:15)
So the fundamental reasons why we must keep Shabbos are to recall God's creation of the world in six days and the Exodus from Egypt. Let us investigate the underlying connection between these explanations and the actual function of Shabbos.
During the six days of Creation, the material world was brought into being, but until the first Shabbos it lacked any sort of spiritual existence. This meant that it could not relate to its ultimate Source - God - Who, of course, does not exist in a corporeal sense. When Shabbos came, a holy soul, as it were, was breathed into the physical earth, giving it the means by which to connect to God. We can say, therefore, that the aspect of Shabbos that was mentioned on the first set of tablets was the ability of our weekly Shabbos to emulate the first Shabbos of Creation. This means that Shabbos enables our lives to contain an element of the Divine, to blow a spark of eternity and ultimate purposefulness into the mundane. Indeed, the Jew is granted a neshamah yeseirah (extra soul) on every Shabbos, reflecting the day's higher, more spiritual goals, which are intended to permeate the whole week.
The Exodus from Egypt, on the other hand, reflects a completely different aspect of Shabbos. God overthrew the normal order of nature, striking the Egyptians with plague after supernatural plague, culminating in the departure of a nation of three million souls in one night from the most sophisticated and ruthless country in the ancient world. God harnessed the whole of the physical world to His holy aims. The entire gamut of corporeality acknowledged His power and trembled at the revelation of His Presence. As the Song at the Sea tells us:
People heard and were frightened; terror gripped the inhabitants of Philistia. Then the chiefs of Edom were confounded; trembling seized the powers of Mo'av; all the dwellers of Canaan melted. (Shemos 15:14-15)
Since the second version of the Ten Commandments indicates that we keep Shabbos as a remembrance of these tremendous events, we may assume that this intense revelation of Divinity reoccurs each week. Indeed, the spiritual light of Shabbos is intended to make a great impact on us and on all of the material world. On Shabbos, our physicality is supposed to be abnegated by the all-pervading Presence of God. We and our world are supposed to be "embarrassed," as it were, at our inadequacy in comparison with the spiritual reality which surrounds us on Shabbos. In fact, the Hebrew word for "embarrassment," bushah, has the same basic letters as Shabbos.
Amalek's behavior reflected the precise opposite of these two primary aspects of Shabbos. When the Torah admonishes us to remember and annihilate Amalek, it tells us:
...how he chanced upon you on the way. (Devarim 25:18)
The word here for "chanced upon" is a phrase denoting seminal emission and defilement. Amalek wanted to defile them with unnatural acts. (Rashi loc. cit.)
Amalek wanted to defile klal Yisrael, not just in the physical sense, but also spiritually. These perverted acts indicated a desire to penetrate the spiritual core of the nascent Jewish people and to contaminate it with dross and evil. This, of course, is the precise opposite of the first intention of Shabbos - to fill our mundane, corporeal lives with holiness and purity, as explained above.
The second intention of Shabbos - allowing the revelation of God's glory to overpower our physical existence - was also frustrated by the deeds of Amalek. When every nation in the world stood in awe and fear at the might of the God of Yisrael, and would not dare contemplate attacking them, Amalek was different.
For the other nations feared to wage war against you, but this one [Amalek] came and started, showing the way to others. (Ibid.)
Amalek was totally unimpressed by the magnificent revelation of God's power and thus attacked Yisrael soon after the crossing of the Yam Suf. This complete arrogance in the face of the greatness of the Creator is the exact opposite of the humbling, almost physically draining effect that the spiritual light of Shabbos is supposed to have on us.
Perhaps this is why it is more appropriate to read about Amalek and our obligation to obliterate it on Shabbos rather than on any other day of the week. For by keeping Shabbos as the Creator intended, we are already partly on the way to vanquishing the evil perpetrated and perpetuated by the archenemy of Yisrael.