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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas ZACHOR (5762)

The Shabbat before Purim, Shabbat Zachor, we read the Maftir from the book of Devarim, parashas Ki Seitzei.

Deut. 25:17,18

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you went out of Egypt . Who encountered you on the way and attacked the weak ones, who were straggling after you, and you were faint and weary and did not fear G-d.


And Amalek did not fear G-d: so as not to do you harm.


This is what I call a Type II Rashi-comment. Rashi inserts just one word in his comment, “Amalek,” in between the Torah’s words. This Type of comment is usually brief and does not deal with a difficulty in the Torah-text (of the What’s-bothering-Rashi? kind) instead its purpose is to guide us around a possible misunderstanding.


The Torah only says “He did not fear G-d” but is unclear to whom this refers. Is it Israel, that did not fear G-d or was it Amalek? It would seem to be Amalek since he is the subject of the verse as it says “Remember what Amalek did to you…” On the other hand, it could refer to Israel, since they are the subject referred to immediately before this, as it says, “you were faint and weary.” Rashi himself also says above that those of Israel who were attacked had been sinners. So maybe they were referred to when it says “he did not fear G-d.

How to decide between these two possible interpretations of who did not fear G-d. ?

Rashi chooses “Amalek” as the referent of the words “were not G-d fearing.”

Why? What lead he him to draw such a conclusion?

This is not easy.

Your Answer:


An Answer: The term “G-d fearing” (Hebrew ‘yireih Elokim”). Appears several times in the Torah when it refers to actual events . See, for example (Genesis 20:11) when Abraham went to Gerar, he told Sarah his wife to say that she was his sister (and not his wife), so that the king and his soldiers would not kill him, because “there was no fear of G-d in this place.” The powerful ruler, Joseph, (Genesis 42:18) proclaims before his brothers “G-d I fear,” and therefore he would not do them harm unfairly. And when Abraham (Genesis 22:12) holds back, at G-d’s command, from killing Isaac on the altar, the angel says “now I know that you are G-d fearing.”


In all these cases we have a common theme, which is: The strong taking advantage (or not taking advantage ) of the weak. The sign of one who is G-d fearing is that he knows there is a higher Judge (elohim = judges in Hebrew) in the world and therefore “might is not right,” and the strong, just because he’s strong, does not take advantage of the weak.

Notice how this is the exact scenario in the war of Amalek against Israel. He attacked Israel precisely because he saw them as weak “stragglers”… “faint and weary.”

One who attacks, unprovoked, such an underdog, precisely because his weakness lures the aggressor to attack, such a one does not have the fear G-d in him. Such a one is Amalek. This is likely what lead Rashi to conclude that one who “did not fear G-d” here refers to Amalek and not to Israel.


We are commanded to wipe out the memory of Amalek. Ironically Amalek no longer exists as a nation, he has been dispersed among the nations. Today the only reason we still remember him is because we are commended to “wipe out his memory” ! That certainly is ironic. But we can now better understand the meaning of this mitzvah. Amalek represents any power in the world that takes advantage of the weak to exploit them or to harm them. (notice Rashi’s last words in this comment – “so as not to do you harm.”) They didn’t have the fear of G-d, which would have prevented them from harming the weak and tired Israel. That is the enemy we are to wipe out. And unfortunately, that enemy still exists. We are reminded yearly never to forget that.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

The Institute is in the process of preparing the Devorim volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" This volume will feature Rashi and the Ba'alie Tosephos. Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further details at msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il

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