> Weekly Torah Portion > Shabbat Shalom > Shabbat Shalom Weekly

Ki Seitzei 5780: Social Unrest and Antisemitism

Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 )

by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

GOOD MORNING! This past week a reader reached out and told me that she was having trouble sleeping at night. “Why?” I asked. She replied; “I feel like we are living in 1939 Europe once again. I feel it in my bones.”

In some sense, she has a point. As cities across the nation cope with civil unrest from groups like BLM and Antifa, as Jews we need to be paying close attention. For example, Portland is closing in on nearly three months of civil unrest which has, for the most part, included daily fires, riots, and criminal activity. According to the Oregon Police Department in the last 84 days only 11 were without incident and in that time hundreds have been arrested.

We must be mindful that history has taught us that no matter where we live we will always be viewed as Jews first and citizens second. In the words of Anne Frank, “We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English, or representatives of any other country for that matter. We will always remain Jews."

I am reminded of the tale of the group of SS officers who came into one of the shtetls of Eastern Europe and marched directly into the local police station and demanded that the chief of police round up all the Jews and veterinarians living in town.

The chief of police looked at the SS officer who issued the order and asked, “Okay. But why the veterinarians?” The officer smirked and turned to his friends, “See? I told you no one cares about the Jews.”

We just marked the 75th anniversary of end of the World War II a few weeks ago and yet antisemitism – specifically violent instances of antisemitism – is growing. Earlier this year, in an issue titled “Why the Jews?” I outlined my analysis of antisemitism based on the Torah’s observations regarding the very first antisemite in Jewish history – Pharaoh (if interested, you can find it here).

I want to examine antisemitism from another perspective. In this week’s Torah reading we find;

Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you came forth out of Egypt; how he attacked you on the way and struck at your rear those who were feeble... (Deuteronomy 25:17-18)

This encapsulates the story of the Amalek nation attacking the Jewish people shorty after they left Egypt. Remarkably, we are commanded to never forget what they did to us and we are exhorted to seek to destroy them and blot them out (this is the same term that is always attached to Hitler – “Yemach Shemo – may his name be blotted out”). The Amalekites are eternally considered a mortal enemy of the Jewish people.

By now, you are probably wondering who are these Amalekites and what exactly did they do?

After the newly formed Jewish nation left Egypt they camped at a place called Rephidim. As they sought to recover from their narrow escape from the Egyptian army they were suddenly attacked by the Amalekite nation. Even though the Jewish people had no designs on the Amalekite territory (they were heading to the Land of Israel) and obviously had no interest in beginning a new conflict, the Amalekites launched a vicious surprise attack on them from the rear.

Moses instructed his student Joshua to amass an elite troop of warriors and mount a counterattack. Moses then went up a nearby mountain to pray with outstretched arms to the Almighty. The Jewish warriors, inspired by the vision of their leader on the mountain top, carried the day and utterly destroy the Amalekite army. God then commanded Moses to record the treachery of the Amalekites and God vowed that His name and throne would not be complete until the Amalekites were completely destroyed.

Believe it or not, the Amalekites were actually cousins of the Jews. In a future column I will explore how they came to be and the source of their vitriol toward the Jewish people.

As I mentioned in this space a few weeks ago, my brilliant brother Rabbi Akiva Zweig once again gave the keynote address at an international symposium on antisemitism in conjunction with Oxford University. In his lecture he discussed how and why the Amalekites have come to typify antisemitism. In case you didn’t have the opportunity to watch him live you can watch his lecture here.

Our sages mention a very interesting insight regarding the Amalekite attack. In retelling the incident, the Torah uses the Hebrew word “korcha – attacked you.” The sages point out that this word has its etymological roots in the Hebrew word “kor,” which means cool.

In other words, in this attack the Amalekites “cooled off” the Jewish people. Meaning, after hearing and seeing all the incredible miracles that God had done for the Jewish people as they left Egypt (the ten plagues, splitting of the Red Sea, and utter defeat of the Egyptian army), all the other nations feared the Jewish people and wouldn’t consider fighting them. When Amalek came and attacked it “cooled them off” and showed the other nations that it was possible to mount a war against the Jewish nation.

The sages continue with the following analogy: There was a bath that was scalding hot to the point that it was unusable. One fellow came along and jumped into the bath and got severely burned. However, since he had jumped in he succeeded in cooling it sufficiently to be usable for others. Likewise, Amalek’s suicidal attack on us was done with the express intent of “cooling us” to the point where other nations were able to conceive of the idea that they too could fight us.

Superficially, this seems like a sound analysis of what the Amalekites achieved. But if we probe just a bit deeper we begin to see how perplexing the logic behind this analogy really is.

As we have seen, Amalek came and attacked the Jewish people and were utterly decimated. But wouldn’t their epic failure serve as an incredible statement and proof of the strength of the Jewish people? In fact, logically this story seems to convey quite the opposite – Amalek’s defeat literally showcased the power and might of the Jewish people! What do the rabbis mean that “they cooled us off?”

When the Jewish people left Egypt they were supposed to receive the Torah and go right into the Land of Israel, ushering in the era of messianic times. The splitting of the Red Sea, according to Jewish teachings, reverberated across the world to the point that everyone was aware of it. The Jewish people were supposed to lead a revolution against idol worship and fulfill Abraham’s vision of monotheism for the world. Why is this so important and why is this vision for the world one that would usher in Messianic times?

Our forefather Abraham’s vision of spreading the knowledge of the existence of God and His desire to have a relationship with His children would lead to the realization that the entire world is a brotherhood of man. The Jewish people, through their exodus from Egypt came to personify this relationship with God and revealed through their monotheistic belief that all of humanity is descended from a single source and therefore all of humanity is created equal.

(As an important aside, this is the reason that Judaism teaches that all people can obtain a share in the world to come. You do not need to be Jewish to enter “heaven.” You merely have to be a good person as defined by following the seven Noachide laws of social justice. In contradistinction, most of the world’s population are members of religions whose dogma maintains that if you are not a member of their religion you are doomed to hell for all eternity).

Thus, upon leaving Egypt we were on an unstoppable mission of bringing the world to its final resolution with God’s world vision at our forefront.

Then Amalek came and made an incredible statement. They attacked knowing that they would be annihilated – which was EXACTLY their point. Their startling statement was: This world is not worth living in if it is to be the world of the Jewish people; we would prefer to die than live in a world where God is revealed and relevant. Amalek succeeded in conveying that there is an alternative to living in this world according to the vision of the Jewish people.

This is what our sages meant that “they cooled us off.” Once Amalek attacked, we no longer had the overwhelming singular truth of our world vision because Amalek succeeded in placing doubt in other people’s minds.

Even though they lost terribly, they succeeded in raising the question as to whether or not this world is worth living in if it is a world according to the Jewish vision. They gave credence to other nations; allowing them to consider fighting us and our vision for the world. This was a devastating loss of credibility – something that as God’s emissaries to this world we can never forgive or forget.

Torah Portion of the Week

Ki Seitzei, Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19

Topics in this week's portion include: Women Captives, First-Born's Share, The Rebellious Son, Hanging and Burial, Returning Lost Articles, The Fallen Animal, Transvestitism, The Bird's Nest, Guard-Rails, Mixed Agriculture, Forbidden Combinations, Bound Tassels, Defamed Wife, Penalty for Adultery, Betrothed Maiden, Rape, Unmarried Girl, Mutilated Genitals, Mamzer, Ammonites & Moabites, Edomites & Egyptians, The Army Camp, Sheltering Slaves, Prostitution, Deducted Interest, Keeping Vows, Worker in a Vineyard, Field Worker, Divorce and Remarriage, New Bridegroom, Kidnapping, Leprosy, Security for Loans, Paying Wages on Time, Testimony of Close Relatives, Widows and Orphans, Forgotten Sheaves, Leftover Fruit, Flogging, The Childless Brother-in-Law, Weights and Measures, Remembering What Amalek Did to Us.

Candle Lighting Times

(or go to

Jerusalem 6:32
Miami 7:25 - Guatemala 5:58 - Hong Kong 6:26
Honolulu 6:32 - Johannesburg 5:32 - Los Angeles 7:05
London 7:39 - Melbourne 5:37 - Mexico City 7:36
New York 7:15 - Singapore 6:51 - Toronto 7:41
Moscow 7:14

Quote of the Week

Those who hate you don't win unless you hate them; and then you destroy yourself.
– Richard Nixon

Dedicated in Loving Memory of

David Luis Egozi
David ben Esther


Leave a Reply

1 2 3 2,914

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram