In this week’s parshah we find the commandment to avenge the murderous assault that Amalek made upon our forefathers in the desert:
זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק בדרך בצאתכם ממצרים. אשר קרך בדרך ויזנב בך כל הנחשלים אחריך ואתה עיף ויגע ולא ירא אלקים. והיה בהניח ה' אלקיך לך מכל איביך מסביב בארץ אשר ה' אלקיך נתן לך נחלה לרשתה תמחה את זכר עמלק מתחת השמים לא תשכח.
Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt, when they happened upon you on the road and cut off all who straggled behind you, when you were tired and worn out. They had no fear of G‑d. When Hashem your G‑d grants you rest from the enemies that surround you in the land that Hashem your G‑d grants you as an inheritance, eradicate the vestige of Amalek from beneath the Heavens. Do not forget.
Rashi offers two parables to describe the circumstances of this attack, each with its unique message. In this week’s parsha, Rashi writes:
אשר קרך בדרך - לשון מקרה... דבר אחר לשון קור וחום, צננך והפשירך מרתיחתך, שהיו כל האומות יראים להלחם בכם ובא זה והתחיל והראה מקום לאחרים. משל לאמבטי רותחת שאין כל בריה יכולה לירד בתוכה, בא בן בליעל אחד קפץ וירד לתוכה. אף על פי שנכוה, הקרה אותה בפני אחרים.
“Asher kar’cha – when they happened upon you.” Kar’cha can imply happenstance, as in the word “mikreh”, which means coincidence… It can also imply coolness (kor), as opposed to heat. Accordingly, in this context it means that they cooled you down from your boiling heat.
The nations all feared to assault Bnei Yisrael until Amalek came and proved that it was possible. This can be compared to a boiling hot bath which no one dared to enter until a reckless person came and jumped inside. Although he was burned, he cooled off the bath for others to enter.
In Parshas Bishalach, the incident of Amalek’s attack is first mentioned:
ויקרא שם המקום מסה ומריבה על ריב בני ישראל ועל נסתם את ה' לאמר היש ה' בקרבנו אם אין. ויבא עמלק וילחם עם ישראל ברפידם.
The place was named Massah U’Merivah because of the strife caused when Bnei Yisrael tested Hashem by saying, “Is Hashem among us or not?”
Then, Amalek came and waged war against Yisrael in Refidim.
There, Rashi offers a different parable:
ויבא עמלק וגו' - סמך פרשה זו למקרא זה, לומר תמיד אני ביניכם ומזומן לכל צרכיכם, ואתם אומרים "היש ה' בקרבנו אם אין", חייכם שהכלב בא ונושך אתכם ואתם צועקים אלי ותדעון היכן אני. משל לאדם שהרכיב בנו על כתפו ויצא לדרך, היה אותו הבן רואה חפץ ואומר, אבא טול חפץ זה ותן לי, והוא נותן לו, וכן שניה וכן שלישית, פגעו באדם אחד, אמר לו אותו הבן ראית את אבא. אמר לו אביו אינך יודע היכן אני, השליכו מעליו ובא הכלב ונשכו.
“Then, Amalek came.” These two incidents are juxtaposed to teach us that Hashem is always among us and ready to care for all our needs, yet we dared to offend Him by asking, “Is Hashem among us or not?”
“By your lives I swear that this dog will come and bite you. Then you will cry out to Me and see whether or not I am among you,” Hashem said.
This can be compared to the case of a man who put his son on his shoulders and went on his way. Whenever the son saw anything he wanted, he said, “Father, give me that thing,” and the father would give it to him again and again. When they met someone along the way, the child asked him, “Do you know where my father is?”
“Do you not know where I am?” asked the father. He then threw his son down off his shoulders and a dog came and bit him.
At first glance, these two parables seem to present contradictory messages. The first parable implies that the mindless cruelty of Amalek was the cause of their attack. The second parable implies that the attack was our own fault for failing to recognize Hashem’s Presence.
In fact, both messages are true. Together they teach us how we should respond to the insults and attacks of the nations. Rather than blaming our suffering purely on their wickedness, we must realize that our own sins breach the wall of defense that Hashem built around us to protect us. Had we been sincere and devoted in our service to Hashem, nothing would be able to harm us.
The Gemara relates the following story:
מעשה ברבי יהושע בן חנניה שהלך לכרך גדול שברומי אמרו לו תינוק אחד יש בבית האסורים יפה עינים וטוב רואי וקווצותיו סדורות לו תלתלים הלך ועמד על פתח בית האסורים אמר "מי נתן למשיסה יעקב וישראל לבוזזים" ענה אותו תינוק ואמר "הלא ה' זו חטאנו לו ולא אבו בדרכיו הלוך ולא שמעו בתורתו." אמר מובטחני בו שמורה הוראה בישראל העבודה שאיני זז מכאן עד שאפדנו בכל ממון שפוסקין עליו. אמרו לא זז משם עד שפדאו בממון הרבה ולא היו ימים מועטין עד שהורה הוראה בישראל ומנו רבי ישמעאל בן אלישע
Rebbe Yehoshua ben Chananyah once visited a major city in the Roman Empire, where he found a young Jewish child in jail. The child had beautiful eyes, a pleasant appearance, and neatly arranged curls. R’ Yehoshua stood by the door of the prison and lamented, “Who gave Yaakov over to his oppressors and Yisrael to his plunderers?”
The child then answered [with the continuation of the same verse], “Was it not Hashem? We sinned against Him, and they did not agree to walk His paths or heed His Torah.”
When R’ Yehoshua heard this, he said “I am certain that he will grow to become a Torah leader of Israel. I swear by the service of the Beis HaMikdash that I will not leave this place until I redeem him, no matter what price they ask.”
He fulfilled his vow and did not leave until he had redeemed the child at a heavy price. It was not long until the child grew to become a Torah leader of Israel, R’ Yishmael ben Elisha.
What was so impressive about the child’s response, that R’ Yehoshua was able to discern from it his potential for greatness. Was it only that the child knew by heart the continuation of the verse, or was there some deeper wisdom hidden behind his response?
Perhaps we can explain by addressing an apparent inconsistency in the verse, which begins in the first person, “We sinned against Him,” and concludes in the third person, “They did not agree to walk His paths or heed His Torah.” The verse thus implies that only when “we”, the Jewish people, confess that we have sinned against Hashem, do we have the right to condemn “them”, the nations of the world, for their sins against Hashem, against His Torah, and against us.
This is the proper response whenever tragedy strikes the Jewish people. Rather than blaming politicians, lawmakers, or military leaders, we must accept responsibility for the sins that brought the tragedy upon us. Only then can we look to the world around us and pray that Hashem avenge us of the harm caused by our enemies.
As a young child, R’ Yishmael was torn away from his parents by marauding Roman soldiers. How natural would it have been to place the blame solely upon them. Yet he recognized that the Romans were no more than a rod in the hand of Hashem, which He used to punish us for our sins. Such a deep insight from such a young child was enough to convince R’ Yehoshua that he was destined to lead Bnei Yisrael on the proper path of Torah, teshuvah and yiras Shomayim.
 Devarim 25: 17-19
 Shemos 17:7-8
 Yeshaya 42:24
 Gittin 58a