By virtue of our Redemption from Egypt, the Jewish people became slaves to Hashem. That servitude consists of two parts. We belong to Hashem because He saved us from captivity. And as a consequence of His ownership, we are obligated to do His will.
Throughout Jewish history, two distinct groups of enemies have attempted to interfere with one or another of these aspects of our relationship with Hashem. The Book of Daniel prophesies concerning four different kingdoms that will enslave the Jewish people. Those four kingdoms – Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome or Edom – contested Hashem's claim of ownership by asserting their own claims.
A second group, the seven Canaanite nations, sought to prevent the Jewish people from entering into the Land of Israel and performing their Master's commandments, the majority of which can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael
Each of these groups has its progenitor. Egypt is the first of Kingdoms: "Egypt is the first of My strength in the tents of Cham" (Tehillim
78: 51). Egypt enslaved the Jewish people even prior to their acquisition by Hashem. Had we not been redeemed from Egypt, we would never have been acquired by Hashem in the first place.
And "Amalek is first among the nations" (BaMidbar
24:20). Amalek attacked us as even before the Revelation at Sinai and therefore sought to prevent the Master from conveying His will. The Seven Nations sought to prevent our fulfillment of that Will after the Revelation at Sinai.
Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, zt"l
, offers a striking insight on the relationship of the Four Kingdoms and the Seven Nations with regard to Purim (see Pachad Yitzchak on Purim, Maamar 2
upon which this piece is based.) In general, the Four Kingdoms and the Seven Nations operate independently of one another. The unique aspect of the Purim story is the conjunction of the two groups. Achashveirosh, a usurper, sits on the throne of Persia, the second of the Four Kingdoms enumerated in Daniel. His chief advisor, and the one behind the fiendish plan to "to destroy, kill, and obliterate" every Jew, is Haman, a direct descendant of Amalek.
Our Sages noted the double threat posed by this conjunction of enemies. The Talmud asks, "Where do we find Esther hinted to in the Written Torah," and answers by citing the verse, "Anochi haster astir
– I will surely hide My face" (Devarim
31:18). The double reference to Hashem's hiddenness in connection with Esther's story refers to the double threat posed by Haman/Amalek's ability to join the opposition of the Four Kingdoms with that of the Seven Nations.
That intensified threat was to become the model for all modern Jewish history from the time the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. Indeed the threat has become internationalized in our fourth and final Exile, the Exile of Rome or Edom. The Ramban writes that each of the Four Kingdoms is foreshadowed by one of the four kings against whom Avraham went to war. The fourth of those kings is "Tidal, the king of nations". Tidal alone of the four kings did not rule over a single kingdom, but many. And this says the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah
42:7) parallels the Exile of Edom, who spreads incitement against the Jews to all the nations of the world.
Our fourth and final exile is, in the language of our Sages, described interchangeably as the Exile of Rome or Edom. Edom refers to Esav, who dwelt there and was the ancestor of Amalek. In other words, our present exile partakes equally of the challenge of the Four Kingdoms and of Amalek, just as in the days of Achashveirosh and Haman.
And indeed both those elements are readily discerned today. The delegitimization of Israel, and the rejection of Jewish sovereignty, derives from the opposition of the Four Kingdoms. As Mark Lilla of the University of Chicago puts it, Jews are mocked today for their insistence on their national identity and entitlement to sovereignty, including the most important right of a sovereign people – the right to defend itself. That right is denied Israel by the International Court of Justice, which declared Israel's security fence a violation of international law; it is denied by the U.N., which consistently applies a different standard to Israeli responses to terror attacks than are applied to any other nation; and it is denied by divestment campaigns, which single out Israel as a uniquely evil state.
But if the idea of a Jewish state is an anachronism, as Professor Tony Judt claims, then Jews are forever destined to be subject to the rule of others. And that subjugation must of necessity impede our ability to be exclusively servants of Hashem.
Jewish sovereignty is the pre-condition for our becoming Hashem's servants. That is why the efforts of the Four Kingdoms to substitute their claims upon us always began with exile from the Land.
The insidious efforts of Amalek to prevent us from following Hashem's Will are equally evident in today's world. Amalek is the ultimate scoffer, denying any meaning or purpose to life. The verse "do not reprove the scoffer" (Mishlei
9:8), Chazal teach us, refers to Amalek. Because he cannot take anything seriously he has no possibility of change or growth, and thus there is no point in reproving him. Amalek's end can only be destruction.
Never was our connection to Hashem so clear as during the exodus from Egypt. The nations all trembled in awe of the Jewish people, and none came forward to do battle. Except for Amalek. Amalek thrust the Jewish people back into the realm of history, removed from any transcendental context.
Prior to Amalek's attack, no nation even conceived the possibility of waging war against us – the miracles in Egypt made Hashem's protection too clear. Even though Amalek was routed, his attack removed the awe. Now other nations could attribute his defeat to a strategic error of some kind, and devise their own superior strategies. That is what Chazal mean when they compare Amalek to one who leaps into a scalding bath and cools it off for all those who follow. Amalek cooled off awareness of Hashem, awareness of a world of meaning and pupose.
The Torah describes how Amalek's ancestor Esav despised the birthright: "And he ate and drank and got up and went and despised the birthright" (Bereishis
25:34). The Torah's description of Esav in a series of short, action verbs captures his animal-like, unreflective nature. Celebrations of such instinctual, hedonistic behavior abound today.
At our first encounter with Amalek, the latter cut off the sign of the covenant between Hashem and Avraham and cast it towards Heaven, as if to deny the existence of a transcendant G-d, and thus any reason to perform the mitzvos. And we live in a world filled with such denial today.
The battle with Amalek is always described in the Torah as taking place "tomorrow." Moshe tells Yehoshua, "Go and battle with Amalek, tomorrow . . . (Shemos
17:9). David HaMelech is described as having "defeated Amalek on the morrow" (Shmuel I
30:17). And Esther requests from Achashveirosh as second day to kill the Amalekites in Shushan.
Purim is harbinger of the future victory over Amalek and the poison that he spread among the nations. That is why on Purim alone we permit ourselves the full rejoicing normally reserved for the days of Mashiach: "Then
our mouths be filled with laughter" (Tehillim
126:2). In reality, Purim belongs to a future time, to the morrow, the time of our final reckoning with Amalek and our victory over both the Four Kingdoms and the Seven Nations.
Related Topics: Jewish Holidays, Purim
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