Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Amalek's power to transform into animals

Last post I mentioned that Rashi in Sefer Shmuel explains that the reason the animals of Amalek had to be killed is because the people of Amalek had the ability through kishuf to make themselves look like animals. The question was raised [offline] what this means. Now, I don’t have a problem with the idea that Amalek may have had access to certain magical powers that we lack understanding of (also strange to be discussing this on the heels of my mention of fantasy literature -- shapeshifting is a favorite device), but assuming you want to either make Rashi fit into a rationalist framework or interpret his answer in a way that speaks to a modern reader, you have some explaining to do. Besides which, as far as answers go, kishuf amounts to a deus ex machina solution. (The better question to ask is why Rashi resorted to kishuf as an answer instead of using the answer given by other meforshim: the animals had to be destroyed so that people should not say, “That’s the sheep/ox/cow of Amalek,” and perpetuate Amalek’s memory.)

Here is my speculative non-literal interpretation of Rashi: Wars are fought between equal or near equal combatants. Imagine leading an American expedition into the bush or jungle somewhere and coming upon some primitive caveman-like tribe. The tribe identifies you as an enemy, girds their loincloths (literally), and the 20 or so warriors sharpen their toothpicks and prepare to attack. Would it make sense to call in some supersonic jets to thwart their attack? Or to maybe stage an aircraft carrier off the coast of the jungle and call in a battalion of marines? It would be silly. You probably would just pack your gear, deflect a few spears, and head home – it’s just now worth the fight. It would be like stepping on ants or swatting flies -- leave the poor cavepeople alone.

Maybe this is the idea Amalek becoming like animals intends to convey. Amalek’s could appear so barbaric that instead of a dangerous foe, they looked like a bunch of primitive cavemen, like animals more than people. It’s dangerous to go hunting wild animals, but that danger is in no way comparable to fighting a sophisticated human enemy who can fight back with cunning and strategy. Amalek’s lulled others into dismissing them as savages not worth the effort to destroy, but this was just a mask of their true nature.

9 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:13 PM

    you might be interested to see sefer tyma dkra from r kanievsky, page 195 dibur hamtchil kaasher that discusses the rashi about changing into animals

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  2. Unfortunately I don't have the sefer. What does he say? Thanks

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  3. Anonymous10:23 PM

    also, i saw kli chemdah end of parshat ki teizah, oas 15, discuss the oneg yomtov.

    r kanievsky discusses a tosafos that haman came from a agag and a donkey, and that had the donkey stayed a woman then itd be a differnt din... dont recall right now.

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  4. >but assuming you want to either make Rashi fit into a rationalist framework or interpret his answer in a way that speaks to a modern reader, you have some explaining to do

    Why would one wish to do this? Isn't it more interesting to try to see why this would be something more than a deus ex machina to him and in his own outlook?

    However, your thought was interesting (if a bit politically incorrect).

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  5. >>>Isn't it more interesting to try to see why this would be something more than a deus ex machina to him and in his own outlook?

    1) Who says there is anything more than deus ex machina to it? When all else fails...

    2) What you are asking I think really comes back to what I called the "better question to ask": why would Rashi invoke kishuf when there appear to be better (yes, I'm aware that I'm introducing a value judgment that Rashi may not have shared) answers to his question. I don't have a good answer for now.

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  6. Why can't we say that the idea of turning into animals is part of the idea of mikreh as animals do not have hashgacha pratis?

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  7. chaim b.8:02 PM

    That's good - didn't think of it. Thank you! (And that's why there's a comments section!)

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  8. Thank you! Having one's thought appreciated by a talmid chacham is a special feeling.

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  9. >1) Who says there is anything more than deus ex machina to it? When all else fails...

    I don't know if there is, but normally we think of it as a really bad solution to a problem. Ruins the story, doesn't it?

    >2) What you are asking I think really comes back to what I called the "better question to ask": why would Rashi invoke kishuf when there appear to be better (yes, I'm aware that I'm introducing a value judgment that Rashi may not have shared) answers to his question. I don't have a good answer for now.

    I guess so. I didn't read your post carefully enough. I think we're asking essentially the same question,

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