For the week ending 7 March 2020 / 11 Adar II 5780

Eradicating the Essence of Evil

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Dear Rabbi, Who is Amalek?

Amalek was the illegitimate son of Elifaz, and the grandson of Esav. (Amalek’s mother was the illegitimate daughter of Amalek’s father).

The progeny of Amalek are the archetypal enemy of the Jewish People. Their very existence is diametrically opposed to the Torah. The Sages describe the people of Amalek as being the essence of all the evil in the world.

Today, we don’t know who is descended from Amalek. Around the year 600 BCE, the Assyrian conqueror Sancheriv exiled most of the world’s inhabitants from their homelands and scattered them around the world. Since then, the true national identity of any people (except for the Jews) has become obscure.

The concept of "Amalek" goes a long way in helping us understand the baffling phenomenon of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism has no sociological parallel. Even the word is unique: "Anti-Semitism" is the only English word describing hate towards a distinct group of people. There’s no English word for French-hatred, Irish-hatred, or German-hatred, even though England fought bitter wars against all these nations.

We are the only people in the world towards whom there exists a unique, distinct hatred. This bears out the Torah’s prediction that until the Mashiach’s days there will exist a nation, Amalek, with an unexplainable, inborn hatred towards us.

Praise on Purim

Dear Rabbi, Why do we not say Hallel on Purim?

We recite Hallel on the festivals which celebrate our freedom from Egypt. Hallel begins with the words, "Give praise, servants of G-d." Thus, we recite "Hallel" to celebrate the fact that we are no longer "servants of Pharaoh," but rather that we are "servants of G-d."

The Megillah, on the other hand, begins with the Jews in exile, subservient to Achashverosh, and ends with the Jews in exile, subservient to Achashverosh. In this sense Hallel is inappropriate.

  • Sources: Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 693, Mishna Berurah 7

They Built That Wall

Dear Rabbi, Why does Jerusalem have Purim on a different day than we do?

Most people celebrate Purim on the 14th of the Hebrew month Adar. But in a city which was walled in the time of Joshua's conquest of Israel, Purim is celebrated on the 15th. Here's why:

Haman decreed that all Jews be killed on the 13th of Adar. When the day came, the Jews miraculously defended themselves. On the following day, Adar 14, the Jews celebrated.

In Shushan, the walled capital city of the Persian Empire, the Jews had an extra day to fight their enemies. They didn't celebrate until the 15th.

In remembrance of these events, Mordechai and Esther instituted two separate days of Purim, Adar 14 and 15. The 14th commemorates the national victory. The 15thShushan Purim — commemorates the victory of the Jews who lived in the walled city of Shushan.

So if you're like most Jews, you celebrate Purim on the 14th. But, if you happen to live in Shushan, or in any ancient walled city, you celebrate Purim on Adar 15th.

The definition of an “ancient walled city” is any city that was surrounded by a wall in the days of Joshua. Logically, the definition should be a city that was walled in the time of Mordechai and Esther, but the Sages didn't want to exclude Jerusalem, whose walls were in ruins at the time of the Purim episode.

Some people keep two days of Purim because they are in doubt whether their city is considered “walled.” One example is Hebron. The Jews in Hebron keep two days of Purim because it's doubtful whether the entire wall around Hebron existed at the time of Joshua.

Another example is Tiberias, a walled city on the shore of Lake Kinneret. Tiberias was walled from the time of Joshua. The doubt arises because Tiberias has no wall along the shore. Is Tiberias considered an “open” city because it is unwalled along the shore? Or is the lake considered a “wall” since it protects the city from attack? This question is left unresolved in the Talmud.

  • Sources: Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 688:1, 3 and 4 and Mishna Berurah 1 and 9

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