Yitro and Amaleik by Rabbi Joel Grossman


Parashat Yitro opens with the phrase, "VaYishma Yitro," "Yitro heard" (Shemot 18:1). Rashi questions what specifically Yitro heard and answers that he heard about the splitting of the Yam Suf and the war with Amaleik. The Gemara (Zevachim 116a) quotes an opinion that he also heard about the Torah being given to Bnei Yisrael.

Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his Sefer Darash Moshe, wonders about the inspirational value of the war with Amaleik. The splitting of the Yam Suf was obviously from Hashem, but defeating Amaleik doesn't show His power. The other nations feared the Jewish People, and it seems astonishing that Amaleik would dare attack them. It should not be a shock to Yitro that Bnei Yisrael, who could split a sea, defeated a single nation. Rav Moshe wonders in what way this news inspired Yitro to convert.

He answers that we can explain that Yitro was influenced in a different way by the news he heard. The open miracles of the Exodus and splitting of the Yam Suf opened Yitro's eyes to believe in Hashem. Even though Yitro firmly believed, these events alone may not have pushed him to accept upon himself the obligations of a Jew. It was the war with Amaleik that ultimately persuaded Yitro to join the ranks of Am Yisrael completely. Rashi compares the attack of Amaleik to a person who leaps into a tub of boiling water. Before he does this, everyone else around him is afraid of jumping in and getting burned. Once the foolish person jumps in, although he is scalded, he cools off the water in the eyes of the others. Similarly, this was the goal of Amaleik. They tried to take the edge off of the Jewish People. What type of nation would totally ignore the lessons of the Exodus and would be willing to let themselves die to dull the strength of Bnei Yisrael for others?

This is what Yitro saw in the war with Amaleik. People who live without the Torah are capable of sinking to depths beyond our imagination. After learning about Amaleik, Yitro realized that it would be impossible to raise a new generation properly without accepting the Torah first. He might have been able to fulfill his responsibility to Hashem by keeping the seven Mitzvot of Noach, but he knew that merely observing the minimum requirements would not give him the ability to properly train his children for Avodat Hashem.

Rav Moshe elsewhere presents three issues regarding the Mitzvah of hearing Parashat Zachor. Firstly, we don't know today who is part of Amaleik, as all of the nations were mixed together by Sancheirev. Secondly, this Mitzvah seems to be a form a taking revenge, which violates the Torah's general ideals. Finally, even if we knew someone was from Amaleik, we would be powerless to kill that individual, as civil law and common sensibilities would prohibit performing such an act. With these three concerns as strong as they are, what is the purpose of Parashat Zachor? The answer is that the Mitzvah today is not to wipe out a nation, but rather to destroy the Yeitzer HaRa within us, which takes Amaleik's place as pure evil in the world. Rav Soloveitchik's understanding of Amaleik supports this idea. He explained that “Amaleik” doesn’t have to mean a person from the genealogy of the biblical Amaleik. Instead, anyone who acts with unfounded hatred towards the Jewish People is considered to be from Amaleik.

May we learn from this lesson with Yitro and understand that Amaleik, our Yeitzer HaRa, is evil and that we have to work and improve ourselves each day to come closer to Hashem. With that, we will understand the importance of our Torah and hopefully be able to transmit it to our children and the next generation.

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