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The Cold War

This week's Torah portion of Ki Teitzei presents the Torah's principles for waging war. Themes in Ki Teitzei include the relationship to captives and their possessions, the obligation not to destroy fruit trees, and instructions for boosting the morale of the fighters. The portion begins with the verse "When you go out to war" and concludes with the obligation to wipe out the nation of Amalek, who attacked the Jewish People on their way out of Egypt.

The Torah recognizes two types of war: A permissible war and an obligatory war. Permissible wars are not required by the Torah, but are permitted in certain cases in order to gain a strategic advantage. Most of the rules for warfare in the portion of Ki Teitzei relate to a permissible war. The war with Amalek, however, is not included in those rules. It falls under a separate commandment altogether. "Wipe out the remnant of Amalek from under the heavens; do not forget."

Why is Amalek singled out from among all the nations that waged war against the Jews? The Torah explains that they were the first who dared start up with the Jews after they left Egypt. The nations of the world looked on in wonder at this small, weak nation that dared to defy the powerful Egyptians. Their miraculous exodus induced the other nations to keep their distance and hold off an attack. Amalek, however, decided to shatter the myth of invincibility. They went forth to war solely to demonstrate that the Jews were vulnerable.

Our sages compare Amalek to one who jumps into a boiling hot bath. Although the first to jump in will be severely scalded, he will cool off the water enough for others to enter safely. Amalek attacked the Jews knowing they would be soundly beaten, in the hopes of encouraging other nations to follow in their steps. In the words of the Torah, they "cooled you off on the way." They caused the fear of the surrounding nations to cool. Therefore, Amalek gets a special mention in the Torah, and we are commanded to wipe out every remnant.

The commandment to destroy Amalek applies in every generation, albeit in a spiritual sense. Amalek represents spiritual coldness and cynicism. The numerical value of the word Amalek is the same as Safek, doubt. Amalek is the force that tries to douse cold water over our spiritual yearnings; that taunts and ridicules our displays of faith. Amalek is the voice urging us to tone down our passion for Yiddishkeit, for mitzvoth. We wage this constant battle with Amalek, which allows us no respite.

In Parshat Ki Teitzei, G-d promises us that ultimately, we will prevail over our enemies. Once we make the decision to wage war against those who threaten us, "G-d will give them over into your hands." The coldness of Amalek has an antidote: The passion of our faith and commitment to Judaism. In merit of the steadfast faith of the Jewish People in the ultimate Redemption, we will overcome the coldness of Amalek, and bring about the immediate revelation of Moshiach.


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