Torah Sparks: Shabbat Chazzon by Rabbi Cantor Eliezer Kepecs

On this Shabbat Chazzon, the Shabbos prior to the Ninth of Av, we remember all the tragedies that have befallen our people throughout the ages during this nine day time period.  We recall c. 1352 BCE the 10 Israelite spies, who after 40 days in Israel brought back evil reports about the land of Canaan on Tisha B’av, thereby condemning our ancestors to wander for 40 years in the desert.  We remember the destruction of both our Temples; the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, where about 100,000 Jews were murdered, leaving the remaining tribes, exiled; and the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE by the Romans under Titus, where 2,500,000 Jews died as a result of war, famine, and disease, leaving 1,000,000 Jews to be exiled, and 100,000 Jews to be sold as slaves by the Romans.  In 132 CE, Bar Kochba’s revolt at Baytar was crushed and over 100,000 Jews were killed.  In 133 CE, Turnus Rufus ploughed the Temple site, and built a pagan city upon its ruins.  We remember the Crusades, where on Tisha B’Av of 1095 CE the First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II.  10,000 Jews were killed in the first month of the Crusade, and we suffered the lash to convert on pain of death.  In 1290 CE, on Tisha B’Av, Jews were expelled from England, accompanied by pogroms and confiscation of books and property.  In September 1492, the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition culminated in the expulsion of Jews from Spain and the Iberian Peninsula with many casualties.  The First World War began on Tisha B’av in 1914, when Britain and Russia declared war on Germany.  120,000 Jewish casualties in all armies were recorded, and over 400 Pogroms occurred in Europe following the war.  We recall the Holocaust of the 20th century, where six million of our people perished by the hand of Satan himself- the Nazis.  In 1942 on Tisha B’Av, Jews were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka Concentration Camp. Today, we are still battling the forces of evil, the Islamic extremists, who seek to destroy the world of modernity and the State of Israel.

We read in Exodus 17:14 “Then the Lord said unto Moses, inscribe this in a document as a reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: ‘I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under Heaven!!’  And Moses built an altar and named it ‘Adonai Nissi.’  He said it means, ‘Hand upon the throne of the Lord!!’  The Lord will be at war with Amalek ‘Midor Dor,’ from generation to generation, forever.”  The words “Kes Yah” or “Throne of the Lord” are written with letters missing, or “defective,” implying that God’s sovereignty is incomplete as long as Amalek is at work in this world.

Who was this Amalek group that the Torah commands the People of Israel to utterly destroy?  Why would God command such a brutal harsh punishment, for this nomadic tribe of people, to utterly obliterate their men, women, children, and cattle, and to not take any spoils of war from them?  Indeed, King Saul found this out the hard way.  Taking spoils of war from the Amalekites, he had mercy on them, and did not kill their king, Agag, as the Lord had commanded him to do.  King Saul’s punishment for having pity on the Amalekites was the loss of Saul’s kingship, his death, and the death of his sons in battle.

The passage I quoted earlier, “Ki yad al kes Yah, milchama laHashem ba’amalek midor dor,” literally meaning, “Hand upon the throne of the Lord,” and the prediction that “The Lord will be at war with Amalek forever,” is a very strong statement.  It is not something to be taken lightly.

The military tactics of Amalek were the first reported accounts in history of guerilla warfare.  They would not attack military positions, but rather they would attack from the rear of the camp, where the sick, the elderly and the children were located.  Amalek would kill the weakest first, targeting civilians, very much like Hezbollah, Islamic Brotherhood, Hamas, and Alkeida do today.  The military tactics of all these groups are all strikingly similar in nature.   These warlord groups strike at civilian targets, not military ones, their goal being to inflict maximum civilian casualties, to kill whomever they can and as many as they can including women, children, elderly, basically,  non-military personnel.  Those who are eating lunch at a café, who are strolling down the street, who are working in an office building, who are riding a public bus, or who are attending school, are the targets of these groups.  These guerilla groups even send their own children to be their instruments of disaster, blowing themselves up in the process, thereby becoming a martyr for their cause.  Hezbollah even takes this one step further, by launching rockets from civilian areas such as hospitals, and residential communities.  Israel will only intentionally target military personnel, not civilians. The civilians that inadvertently get killed from Israeli rockets happen to be in the crossfire, while Hezbollah and Hamas use these people as human shields.

If we are to use the Torah as a guide for our lives, then we cannot ignore the commandment to annihilate Amalek entirely and completely.  As the Torah predicted in a text dating to antiquity, 3,500 years old, “the hand of Amalek will be upon the throne of the Lord, and the Lord will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages.”  Because of this biblical prediction, the war that Israel fights with her warlord neighbors, unfortunately, has to be.  May God give Israel the knowledge, strength, and perseverance to speedily win this war of humanity vs. barbarianism.

–by Cantor Eliezer Kepecs

Written and presented by Rabbi Cantor Lawrence Eliezer Kepecs for Sat. July 29, 2006.  All rights reserved.  No part of this speech may be reproduced in any way, without mention of the copyright’s name.

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