Ki Seitzei – “There Are No Atheists in Foxholes”

One of the 6 mitzvos that have to do with remembering is found at the end of this week’s Torah portion of Ki Seitzei. “You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt, how he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary, and he did not fear G-D. [Therefore,] it will be, when Hashem your G-D grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which Hashem, your G-D, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget” (Devarim 25:17-19)!
Rabbeinu Bachye describes the strategy we undertook and should undertake towards the nation of Amalek. “After you inherit the land you shall wipe out the remembrance of Amalek as written in Shmuel Alef (15:3): ‘and you shall slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ This is in order so that people won’t say this ox came from Amalek. Furthermore Chaza”l taught that they used black magic to turn themselves into animals. They were able to transform into whatever animal they wanted to therefore the pasuk spelled out that every animal should be wiped out, from the ox to the sheep and the camel to the donkey, and in this way the wisdom of the Torah outsmarted their wisdom.”

 Rabbeinu Bachye further says that Hashem destroyed their power in Heaven as Bilaam prophesied would happen, so that in the beginning they will be lost from on high (their ministering angel will be destroyed), and in the end they will be wiped out in this world. Rabbeinu Bachye learns out that they will not be forgotten as long as they aren’t wiped off the face of the earth. But in the times of Moshiach, when they will finally be wiped out, they will be forgotten from this world, and only then will Hashem’s Holy Name and Throne be complete. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We see from here that the ultimate travesty is being forgotten about. But why is Amalek worse than any other nation that has attacked and ravaged the Jewish people? Certainly, there are far worse and horrific stories of enemies that have attacked and persecuted us; so why does Amalek seem to be the worst of them all?

Rabbeinu Bachye explains in his simple understanding of these pesukim that what Amalek did with us was an injustice by out of the blue coming against us from a faraway land, and not remembering the covenant of G-D. They attacked the rear, the weakest people, who didn’t have the strength to walk. It is normal for camps running away from the enemy, and the enemy doesn’t have the power to breach the camp; but they came from behind and struck the end of the camp, the weakest part. Not only that but another indication that they were not G-D fearing was that the Amalekites attacked while all the Jews were tired in Refidim, and thirsty for water.

Why is it so bad that they attacked from behind? Wasn’t it smart strategy to surprise attack from behind, when the Jewish people were tired and weak, catching them off-guard and ruining their morale? What does it have to do with a lack of fear of Heaven? And they weren’t Jewish anyways, so why is that such a claim against them?

It would seem that Rabbeinu Bachye is saying something quite incredible! The fact that they attacked the weak showed that they were in fact more afraid of people and their strengths, than Hashem. It must be that when an army normally attacks the front or the side, even if it is a surprise attack, but it shows that they aren’t afraid of their enemy and this is an indication at the very least, on some subconscious level, that they fear Hashem. For if otherwise, why would Hashem express in the Torah a claim against Amalek that they are not G-D fearing, even if they had the chutzpah to attack right after the whole world saw the splitting of the sea and the drowning of the Egyptians? (Chaza”l says that when the sea split every water in the world split as well, for everyone to know what’ was going on). But if the fact they attacked right after those open miracles was a reason, why they are fearless then that has nothing to do with striking from behind the infirm and weak?! Therefore, it must be from the fact that Hashem has such a prejudice against Amalek for what they did and how they did it and calls it a lack of yiras Hashem. Therefore, anyone else who has the moral decency to not attack the weak, from behind, must have at least a sliver of fear of Hashem inside them.

We see from here that inherent in everything in creation there is an inkling of fear towards Hashem. Unfortunately, people have the ability to completely ignore it; but they also have the ability to chooose to embrace it. The more they embrace it the bigger a mentche they become.