We had quite a juicy reading last week from Deuteronomy, full of laws about warfare, clothing, discipline, plowing, and marital regulations. As usual, some of the laws seem archaic and others seem downright intolerant, but remember the era from which these laws emerged- it was much different than Boston of 2014.
Moving past the prohibitions of using oxen and donkeys together, and the ban of blending wool and linen in clothing, Ki Tetze ends with a forceful reminder. We are told, again, about the desert battle with the Amalekites, who attacked the Israelite columns not from the front, where the men of fighting age would be leading the way, but from the back, where they could pick off the elderly, the infirm, the women, and the children.
So horrifying was the fighting of Amalek that we are instructed not only to never forget it, but also that such evil must be defeated at all costs and totally eliminated. Many of you know the story of King Saul and his battle against King Agag and the (later) Amalekites in the First Book of Samuel. In that famous story, God instructs Saul (via Samuel the prophet) to exterminate each and every Amalekite as punishment for what the Amalekites did to the wandering Israelites some four hundred years previously.
No doubt you find this morally repugnant, but don’t run away from the text. Take each dramatic pronouncement with a grain of salt- I read the Agag text as more of a reminder that wickedness must not be ignored and not mandated genocide. After all, the Bible likes to scare you- last week we also read the famous ben sorer u’moreh text in which we are instructed to take a wicked and rebellious son into the public square and stone him to death… but that never happened and the Rabbis took great pains to legislate that particular law off the books.
Today in the Middle East make no mistake- we are again confronted with pure evil that must be stopped. I challenge you to watch the videos out of Raqqa and the Islamic State, to read the news of massacres being carried out, and to attempt to look at the pictures of the horrific acts that are happening there without feeling sick to your stomach. I can’t even bring myself to write words describing the things that are taking place- suffice to say that ISIS is, like the Nazis, of the Khmer Rouge, or even Haman in Persia, another manifestation of Amalek that must be stopped.
As we read each year at the Passover seder, in every generation there are those who rise up and seek our destruction. This time, it’s not just about “us” as Jews, it’s about everyone. We must save the world, and save the people of Iraq and Syria, from this horror. We cannot stand idly by.