—Rabbi Israel Chait—
Pirkei Avos Lecture 1990 Transcribed by a student
This is a sensitive topic, regards the annihilation of Amalek. The midrash says the following:
As a child, Moshe took the Pharaoh’s crown and placed it on his own head. Bilam was there and told Pharaoh to be careful because this child is a Jew and he did this out of wisdom. He means symbolically to take the crown of Egypt.
[Bilam continued to criticize the Jews.] Abraham desired power and was a liar as he said his wife was his sister to make Egypt stumble. Isaac too lied in this manner in Gerar. Jacob followed this path of trickery when taking the birthright from Esav and he went to Paddan Aram and took Lavan’s flock leaving him with nothing, taking his daughters too. And the brothers sold Joseph. When Joseph was freed from prison, he gave his father and brothers wealth and did not charge them anything [assumedly referring to grain and lodging in Egypt]. Bilam told Pharaoh, “These are the kind of people you’re dealing with.”
Bilam projected base motivations onto Torah facts. However, an event can be determined only by the underlying motive and perfection of individual. A person can corrupt the true intent of a perfected person’s act by projecting onto it evil motives.
The idea of annihilating Amalek and the mitzvah to have hatred towards a destructive person like our prayers state is distasteful to people: “And for slanderers may there be no hope; and may all wickedness be destroyed instantly and may all Your enemies be cut down quickly. Quickly uproot, smash, and cast down the arrogant sinners and humble them quickly in our days” (Shmoneh Essray). This is because the moment such a person sees hatred, he immediately identifies it with his own base emotion of hatred and assumes what Judaism proposes is the same. But in fact, Judaism does not propose anything of this sort. What Judaism says with the command to annihilate Amalek is that a person who has a love of God and love for people must ipso facto have a hatred towards anything that destroys the Jewish nation. It is not a hatred against the individual. It is a philosophical hatred. Most people cannot understand such a concept because they are rooted in the personal, and therefore they cannot understand what that means. But Judaism demands that a person attains the level of having that hatred. When you see people misguiding others with completely false ideas about Judaism and about God for no other reason than for their own advantage, you must have a hatred for such a practice. This destroys people’s lives and removes them from the truth. Similarly, a person would have to hate a physician for practicing medicine while ignorant of medicine and physically destroys others. Amalek is not just the Jews’ enemy, but the enemy of the entire world. A person must have a philosophical hatred towards any human being who destroys others.
People do not have a conviction in Torah from Sinai [proof of God and proof of His Torah based on mass witnesses]. Some people feel there is an equality of beliefs: “I have my belief and you have your equally plausible belief.” But this is inapplicable when one belief is true, and the other is false. One cannot speak of equality between treating disease with medicine and with witchcraft. Those who feel it is unfair how Torah treats Amalek—those wishing to destroy Judaism—feel this way due to their ignorance of what Judaism is, and its veracity.
Anyone with a love of God and a love for people must hate those seeking to destroy Judaism and ideas about God. The Nazis, may their fame be erased, embodied Amalek. Torah says that such a nation must be utterly destroyed.
How do we respond to those questioning the justice in killing the innocent Amalekite children? It is not a simple matter, as we see someone greater than us did not understand it. Kings Saul allowed the Amalekite children and animals to survive. He said, “Animals: Where have they sinned? Children: Where have they sinned?” Nevertheless, God gave us the law unlike King Saul thought. A person may not understand why the children and animals must be killed. But one cannot act in accord with his lack of understanding [he must follow the law to kill all].
God does not seek the destruction of the children. On the contrary, at the Reed Sea, God lamented [about the Egyptians]: “The works of My hands are drowning in the sea.” God does not wish that people are destroyed. However, in order to eradicate the philosophy of Amalek, killing the entire nation is necessary. The same principle applied to the seven nations [those whom the Jews killed upon entering Israel]. Their idolatry required eradication. Those who disagree with complete eradication of a nation are wrong. God knows better. Support is found in Germany’s new movement by the Nazi’s children. The children say, “Our parents could not have been the killers that history depicts. Therefore, history must be a Jewish conspiracy to condemn our parents.” The children view their parents as virtuous and they are bringing back Nazism with a denial of the atrocities. This is the most dangerous kind of Nazism. This shows the justice in eradicating the children as well. We don’t have the knowledge God used in creating Torah, but if one violates the halacha it must have disastrous effects. That is why it says since King Saul did not fulfill eradicating Amalek, Haman was a result.
Eradicating Amalek does not target harm towards individuals, but the goal is to remove a force that harms the entire world. We follow the halacha, even if it conflicts with our mercy for others, even though such mercy is the emotion that Torah encourages. This is because on the whole, mercy leads to virtuous actions. But at times, we must not follow this trait of mercifulness.
Even more, not only do we follow the law of eradicating Amalek, but we view it as the greatest kindness, because there is no one who is more merciful than God: “God, God, a Power merciful and gracious” (Exod. 34:6). Our greatest acts of mercy do not even approach God’s mercy, which is qualitatively differentiated from ours. Eradicating Amalek is a trait of justice, but it is also based on the greatest trait of mercy for the world.
In conclusion, apologetics has no place in Judaism. It is a defense, and Judaism requires no defense. Proof of Torah from Sinai validates Torah as God’s words. Once a person knows this, his likes or dislikes for Torah’s commands and philosophy have no effect upon his actions or beliefs. Anyone who needs to render Torah ideals in an appealing light is one who clearly remains unconvinced that Torah is from God. One may not like the idea of mamzare, but it is a Torah verse, and thus, God’s word. There is no recourse.
One with a frantic need to defend Torah, determines Torah truths based on an appeal to oneself, and not based on Sinai. It is absurd to keep Torah only when it is appealing. [God’s knowledge overrides man’s knowledge.] It is a denial of God giving the Torah. This point must be clear.
[We commenced discussing gender equality.] The question if there are inferior and superior genders is irrational, because we have no right to dictate what types of beings God should create. On the whole, it is accepted that angels are superior to man, and among man there are levels. Can one claim such variation in superiority is unfair? Of course not. This is God’s right. This claim is of a neurotic nature. Modern day society that claims this [unfairness] is concerned about their personal interests. And had God created either gender as superior, we would accept that as well; we abide by God’s wisdom. To say otherwise denies God. We have the right to investigate Torah, but it must be done properly without negating the Baalei Hamesora [Torah leaders throughout time] and Chazal. And we must not draw philosophical conclusions that would imply that Chazal were bigoted, or that Maimonides or the Tur are bigoted for reciting “That you made me according to Your will” as accepting God’s decree, as such accusations break the entire system. Maimonides says that a denier of Torah is one who derides the Torah. Once a person speaks against Chazal, the Baalei Hamesora and the Rishonim, one destroys the system which depends on them.
An investigation reveals that genders are different with their respective unique qualities. Both genders are components of a whole: “Male and female He created them. And when they were created, He blessed them and called them Man” (Gen. 5:2).
At the end of Horiyus Chazal say that a Torah scholar precedes the king. Maimonides says this is in thought alone, as the benefit of wisdom is greater than the benefit of the king. But in practice, no preference should be shown greater than for the king. Maimonides says this prioritization is only idealistic.