I Forget, Who Was Amalek? Originally Published March 15-16, 2019

This is Shabbat Zakhor, named after the first word of the snippet of Parashat Ki Tetse we read this week as the maftir aliyah.  It recalls Amalek’s ambush of the tired people of Israel just after we crossed the Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds.  Attacking was a nasty thing to do, and as we learned a few weeks ago Joshua fought back under Moses’ inspiration, with the help of Aaron and Hur, and overcame Amalek but didn’t destroy him.

We were then given the interesting commandment to remember what Amalek had done but to wipe out his memory.  So Moses built an altar and proclaimed that “The Lord will be at war against Amalek throughout the ages.”  Through the years, the story goes, the descendants of Amalek come against us, and we have yet to wipe them out.  We haul out this reading each year as a way of fulfilling the commandment, on the Shabbat before Purim, because Haman (the bad guy in the Purim story) was said to be a descendant of Amalek.  Purported descendants of Amalek have included the Romans, Hitler, the Stalinists, Torquemada, Antiochus, Titus, Hadrian, and so many more.  (We must be careful whom we deem an Amalekite, lest we attack inappropriately.)

The Amalekites were people of the Negev and the adjoining desert.  Esau and Adah (who was the daughter of Elon the Hittite) had a son named Eliphaz who, although he had a wife bearing him children, decided to have kid with Timna, a non-spousal concubine (Genesis 36:2 et seq.):  they had Amalek.  (At Genesis 36:12, if it’s not Shabbat, let’s cue the foreboding music.)  

According to 1 Samuel 30:1-2, the Amalekites invaded the Negev and Ziklag in the Judean/Philistine border area during the reign of King Saul.  Future King David grabbed back the captives successfully.

In 2 Samuel 1:5-10, we see that an Amalekite killed King Saul after the battle of Mount Gilboa, took his crown and bracelet and took them to David.  David gave no positive reward for this; he had him executed.

The territory of the Amalekites is mentioned in Genesis 14:7, even though Amalek had not yet been born.

Haman was an Agagite, said to be a descendant of Agag, the Amalekite king (1 Samuel 15:8), whom King Saul had spared, thus not fulfilling Samuel’s suggestion that he wipe out the Amalekites.  Samuel then killed Agag, but not before Agag had a child.  And 500 years or so later there was Haman.