Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Purim, Amulek and free choice

“Vayishma Yisro Kohain Midyan Choisan Moishe Es Kol Asher Aseh Elokim l’Moishe ve’l’Yisroel Amo – Yisro, the minister (priest) of Midyan, the father in law of Moishe, heard all that G-d did to Moishe and to Yisroel, His people.”
Rashi elucidates: What report did he hear that caused him to come? Rashi answers, the dividing of the Red Sea and the war with Amulek.  
A few weeks ago I was learning Tanya with my Tanya Havruso, Reb Yaakov and he told me the explanation of this verse of Torah and Rashi’s elucidation according to the Chasam Sofer.  I almost jumped out of my skin. I was so excited!  From time to time we come across these pieces of Torah which give you the feeling that you want to dance and scream and give Hashem Yisburach praises and thanks. You want to express your gratitude that you are part of this society which has this wisdom and above all you are thankful to achieve this awareness of the Creator. For me this was that kind of moment. Now this is not a totally new idea for me. The concept of Bechira the free moral choice given to humanity by the Creator has boggled my mind for almost thirty years and today B-H I have a collection of my own thoughts on this topic as well. Some ideas that I have heard and learned in my studies and some that which with help of Heaven I was able to clarify and create new ways (new at least for me) to understand these concepts.

My sympathies for Yisro is also nothing new for me, there are some who occasionally compare me to this great man, one of the greatest men ever!. Those who see me as someone comparable to Yisro probably don’t understand his greatness. Nevertheless there is obvious link between every Jewish convert and this second in history major Ger – convert.

What made me so excited with the pshat (explanation) of the Chasam Sofer? It was how he explains why it was splitting of the sea and the war with Amulek which made Yisro want to convert. It is a known fact taught by our Torah that Yisro in his search for the true G-d investigated all the religious systems and philosophies available to him. The splitting of the sea itself, was not the sole reason that made him want to join the Israelites in their service of G-d. Other religious systems also teach about the Almighty Creator, or  at least the concept of a head god ruling over the other gods that were involved in the matters of mankind. The deciding reason for Yisro to convert was not the splitting of the sea alone but the splitting of the sea together with the subsequent war of Amulek. The fact that this Almighty G-d, who just days before split the sea with His might and control over nature, this same G-d, when it comes to human matters, withdraws Himself thus  leaving space  for man and his actions. In this case it was the action of the nation of Amulek to attack the Jewish nation.

Yisro understood the lesson which happened to his son in law and the people of G-d that he was leading. Yisro realized that G-d of Jews is free and unfettered in his actions and he made man free in his actions as well.

I was thrilled to learn that the same concept that has occupied my mind for so long since my early teenage years, this same concept was the decisive reason for Yisro to join the people of G-d and to give his life in unconditional service to this G-d!
No other man, nor family or society, no life situation or social status can change or influence our moral decisions! Even G-d himself “withdraws” so as to let our moral choice take place! Our freedom is happening inside our hearts and minds! No matter if we are in an easy environment or a hard one, it does not change the fact that the choice between good or, Lo ulaini, evil is in our hands. One can blame no one for his moral degradation besides himself. There is no other factor other than moral laziness and succumbing to the corporeal desires which allows some people to become beasts. Man was created with the ability to allow him to achieve a loftier level than even spiritual beings (popularly called angels). If man fails, it is his failure! If he succeeds it is his success to be rewarded. That’s the lesson which Yisro learned from the splitting of the sea and the war of Amulek.

Our discussion about Amulek in the context of the recent attack against our community by people who were too weak to uphold the high moral standards of this community; and the context of the reading of parshas Zuchor and the holiday of Purim, is entirely not coincidental. With help of G-d, I will come back to this topic after Purim and meanwhile please enjoy the comments of Rav Hirsch on the topic of Amulek. Amulek represents the mode of civilization in opposition to the civilization developed by the adherents of Torah. Again I will beg all my readers, skip my writings and read this excerpt from Rav Hirsch’s commentary. He promised and I also promise you, that your understanding of history and your position in history as an individual and as a member of the Jewish nation will be elevated new to levels after reading this!

Matys Weiser

From commentary on Chumash of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch:

"The general ideas on Nature, G-d and Man were so completely opposite to the Truths which were to be realized in Israel and through Israel; Nature and its Laws were thought to be so completely absolute and above any other power whatsoever; the gods themselves to be similarly bound by these laws; and Man to stand so powerless under the double ban of the blind powers of both Nature and gods, the step to Jewish conceptions of these matters was such a tremendous and overpowering contrast, that we really can not wonder if these basic ideas which lie at the root of Jewish thought and actions only became firmly established in the minds of the first people of G-d very gradually, and that it required all the great and wonderful experiences of our history, which was then 'List at its commencement, to make these truths really and truly and safely fixed in our consciousness. For the very foundation of Jewish Teaching is based on recognizing:
(a) Nature as being a creation of a completely free, Almighty unique G-d, Who still retains completely free mastery over it, and is in no wise bound by it, or the laws He has made to govern it;
(b) G-d, as the One, Personal, Free, Almighty Creator with completely unlimited powers of governing the world and
(c) above all, Man as being created by this free Creator as a personality with complete free will of his own, to whom given, again by the free Creator, the mission of raising himself above the forces of Nature which stand far below him, by, of his own free will, subjecting his own will to that of G-d, to become the first free servitor of G-d.

All the experiences which Israel — destined to become thy Nation of G-d — had hitherto made, since its entry into the wilderness, Mara, quails, Manna, Sabbath, water-from-the-rock, taught it to know its future relation to Nature, taught it what independence of the forces of Nature it was to gain, simply by subjecting itself to the Will of G-d. They still had one experience to make in these preparatory weeks for the reception of the Torah. It remained for them to learn what the position of the future People of G-d was to be, as a nation amongst the nations; its position in relation to human forces and for the future of human violence. This experience they were to have while still in Rephidim, the means of teaching was Amalek. In the same way that the Spirit of Esau, in its night attack on Jacob who was on his peaceful way to his individual independence, made Jacob live through the whole struggle and fight that the descendants of Esau would impose on the descendants of Jacob throughout the night-centuries of world-history, and proclaimed the final ultimate victory of Jacob, so it was Esau 's grandson, Amalek, who was the first and only nation that completely unprovoked and unthreatened, attacked Jacob's grandson, Israel, on their way to national independence. However weak and tired out by their wanderings, this people with women and children seeking a homeland must have appeared, the Might of G-d which hovered over them protecting and guiding them, had become so imposingly evident, that the fear of it paralyzed all the other nations, even those not immediately threatened. Philistia feared, Edom remained stunned, Moabtrembled, Canaan was quite dumbfounded, it was only Amalek, completely unprovoked, who hurried out of his way to gain renown and take up arms against the Force which had laid even a Pharaoh low. He alone lo ire Elokim, did not fear G-d. He alone, was the heir of that spirit which chose the sword as his lot, who sought to realize the seeking renown in laurels of blood and the naseh luni sheim with which old Nimrod started the history of the world to the destruction of the happiness of nations and men. This seeking renown by the force of arms is the first and last enemy of the happiness of mankind and of the Kingdom of G-don earth. The policy of the Pharaohs — using force ruthlessly to further their own interests, certainly has interest in keeping: up slavery, but it can even be a friend of freedom, when freedom serves its interest. But Amalek's renown-seeking sword knows no rest so long as one single pulse beats in freedom, and pays no homage to it, so long as any modest, quiet happiness exists which does not tremble before its might. Similar forces, armed to the teeth like himself, Amalek does not bate, but rather sees in such measures a sign of recognition and fear of his sword. He wages war against them of course, but honors opponents who acknowledge him and have similar principles to his own. But in Israel he sees an object of mortal hate and complete disdain, where one dares to think the sword is dispensable, where one dares to trust in spiritual moral powers, powers of which the sword has no idea, and which are beyond its reach. In the representative of the idea of the greatness which Man can attain by Peace, Amalek sees the utter scorn of all his principles, sees in it his one real enemy, and senses somehow his own ultimate collapse. "Amalek came and made war on Israel in Rephidim". Perhaps if Israel's faintheartedness had not caused Rephidim to be transferred from a passing station to a camping ground, Israel would long ago have already been led on to, Horeb, and Arnalek would not have caught them in Rephidim. But as it was, Israel had to endure this fresh anxious and worrying experience.

Attacked by Amalek, Israel had to wage war, but it is not Israel’s sword but Moses' staff that conquers Amalek and it is not any magic power in the staff but the Emuna - faith which is expressed and brought to the minds of the people by the uplifted hand, the giving oneself up with complete confidence to G-d that achieved the victory. Emuna "so his hands remained as an expression of confidence until the sun set".

(…)Aaron and Hur were at the side of Moses as the representatives of the People. Not the confidence in G-d of the Leader, but the confidence in G-d of the People, which the Leader inspired, led to victory.
Vayachlosh – root Chlsh whereas root Chltz means the loosing of a constricting band i.e., freeing, Chlsh is the loosing of the natural forces which hold one together; i.e., weakening. Joshua only weakened Amalek. His final defeat remains for the distant future. Israel itself is not yet mature. Until Israel attains maturity, the existence of Amalek as a contrast is necessary for the development of Israel's education.

(…) Es Zaicher Amulek - It is not Amalek who is so pernicious for the moral future of mankind but Zaicher Amulek, the glorifying of the memory of Amalek which is the danger. As long as the annals of humanity cover the memory of the heroes of the sword with glory, as long as those that throttle and murder the happiness of mankind are not buried in oblivion, so long will each successive generation look up in worship to these "great ones" of violence and force, and their memory will awaken the desire to emulate these heroes, and acquire equal glory by equal violence and force. Only when the divine laws of morals have become the sole criterion as to the worth of the greatest and smallest of men, and no longer in inverse proportion but in direct proportion to greatness and power do the demands of morality grow, and the greater and more powerful a man is, the less any lapse in the laws of morality is excused, then and then only will the reign of Amalek cease for ever in the world. That this is the final goal of G-d's management and direction of the history of the world is expressed here after the first weakening of Amalek, "I will utterly obliterate the keeping up the remembrance of Amalek from as far as the heavens reach". So also in Ps. IX,7, the thought is poignantly expressed, that only with the doing away with the remembrance of devastations and conquests will the perpetrators of these deeds disappear.
Vayiven Moishe Mizbeach - Just as Jacob, after he had won the name Israel by his night-long fight with the genius of Amalek, built an "altar for remembrance"Vayitzav Sham Mizbeach (Gen. XXXIII,20 see notes there), and there. by immortalized the acclamation Kal Elokai Yisroel so did Moses here build "an altar of remembrance" after the first victory over Amalek, and after the meaning of this victory had become clear to him. Amalek's greatness lies in "destruction".Israel's mission is "building", the peaceful human building up of everything earthly up to G-d. This building an altar, this final raising up of the whole earth to form an altar to G-d, is the antithesis of Amalek's Sword. (Compare Ch. XX,22). This altar of Moses in the wilderness starts the war to be waged against Amalek, that is why he called it H Nsi -"G-d calls me to the fight and shows me where I am to fight".Nes is neither a weapon nor a defense. Nes is the sign that is held aloft to give the fighter the direction and the place where the fight is to be fought. The work that G-d lets Moses start and found, has not got for its object simply the internal constitution of Israel. The object of the building up of the nation of Israel on the development of every humane feeling and ideal, is to fight and overcome everything ungodly and inhumane on earth. This development does not attack, but it is attacked, as by Amalek here, and in this defensive fight, Amalek gets defeated.
Vayomer (see the text in Hebrew) He gave it this name and thereby expressed that etc.; or, He said this because etc., Kas does not occur elsewhere. It is manifestly the incomplete Ksa, just as Yid Key is only a part of the Name of G-d. It is evident, as our sages say – “As long as the memory of Amalek is thought of as renown, neither God's Throne nor His Name is complete.” G-d then only rules in Nature, but not in the world of Mankind. At most G-d's Mastery is recognized and acknowledged as being over Nature, but not as being over the world of Man, as long as Man does not subordinate his actions to G-d's Will, as long as the ideal of Man's greatness is fixed on might and power, and not on his showing his homage to G-d by completely carrying out His Law of Morality. So here Moses proclaims: The governing (or directing) (Yad) power of the Throne of G-d — incomplete though the Throne may still be, and incompletely recognized though His Name may still be - is nothing else but a war for G-d, i.e., for His complete recognition, against Amalek from generation to generation. The underlying idea of G-d's direction of history is naught but war against Amalek until the Goal of Time is reached."