Letters Sept. 2019
Reader: Why are the Jews commanded to kill every male, woman and children of the Canaanites and Amalek nation(s)? Of course, these people were enemies of Israel, but should innocent babies suffer too, as in the plagues of Egypt? How do we reconcile this?
The Rabbis: 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 7 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 that 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, the Almighty [is] merciful and gracious, long-suffering, with abundant kindness and truth” (Exod. 34:6). Our greatest acts of mer- cy 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.
Jesus, Mohammed: True Prophets?
Reader: This week parsha talk about G-d bringing a Prophet like Moses. Both Christianity and Islam had claimed the fulfillment of this prophesy in their religion. What is the response of Rabbinic Judaism to this. Thanks so much.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: As the Torah says, a prophet is validated by predicting details of future events where every detail comes true, and neither Mohammad or Jesus performed this. Thereby, they failed to be validated as prophets. Torah says, “But any prophet who presumes to speak in My name an oracle that I did not command him to utter, or who speaks in the name of other gods—that prophet shall die. And should you ask yourselves, ‘How can we know that the oracle was not spoken by the Lord?’— if the prophet speaks in the name of the Lord and the oracle does not come true, that oracle was not spoken by the Lord; the prophet has uttered it presumptuously: do not stand in dread of him” (Deut. 18:20-22).