Tuesday, March 11, 2008

the battle with Amalek in Refidim

When one studies history it may be important to know who did what when and where, but the Torah is not history. There must be some reason relevant to our moral education for the Torah to tell us that the battle with Amalek took place in Refidim. Chazal do offer such a reason: the name of the place hints at the cause of Amalek’s attack, namely “rafu y’deihem min haTorah”, there was a weakness and lack of intensity in Torah.

The Shem m’Shmuel asks: the battle with Amalek took place en route to Sinai, before the Torah was given. There were only a few halachos that had been taught at Marah, and even with respect to these laws there was no mitzvah of talmud torah, to study torah as an end in itself. How then can the Jewish people at this point be criticized for “rifyon yadayim” in Torah?

The answer the Shem m’Shmuel suggests opens a door into understanding the whole parsha of Amalek and Purim. True, there was not yet Torah to study, but the Jewish people knew that kabbalas haTorah was the end goal of the entire process of the exodus from Egypt. They had been counting days of sefirah in eager anticipation of that end goal. They should have been filled with anticipation and longing for that end goal. Yet, they hit a Refidim. “Rafu y’deihem”, the zeal and eagerness hit a road bump, the preparation and anticipation lost some steam, and a little voice told them that maybe they should maybe slow down, maybe think a little more about this kabbalas haTorah idea and consider if they are really ready for it. That’s Amalek in a nutshell.

Road bumps or setbacks in a life of learning are inevitable, but if that initial commitment is not strong and suffers from “rifyon yadayim” the danger is far more serious.

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