B’shelach (Exodus 13:17-17:16) What Is Your Amekek?

Photo by Omer Salom on Unsplash
Photo by Omer Salom on Unsplash

What a powerful and dramatic portion we have this week. B’shelach will keep us very busy. From the drama of the Sea of Reeds to Miriam’s song (see the mi camocha and chapter 15), to the first of many challenges to Moses’s leadership in the Wildernes, the portion challenges us with a myriad of emotions. There is also memory, as we read in 13:19 of the command to take the bones of Joseph with him.

But there is also a powerful scene played out in this passage in 17:8-16 in which we encounter the attack on the Israelites by Amekek. I have no doubt that many colleagues will look at these verses this Shabbat. Amelek symbolizes the evil in the world, an evil that sometime arrives randomly. Amelek is at war with the Israelites and they are vanquished through the power of Moses and Aaron and Hur. In 17:10-13, we read the famous passage of Moses holding out his hands in order to destroy Amelek. He cannot do it alone, so his people help him.

There are many ways to look at this. Our generation has spanned decades now and we know, through life experience, that evil exists and that the only way it can be countered is by people joining together to unite against a common foe. Our Amelek now may be Covid, or political division, or apathy. But it exists in every generation and our Torah portions ends with a reminder that “God will be at war with Amelek throughout the ages” (17: 16)

In his weekly commentary that is published by his foundation, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z’l) cites a passage from Michael Walzer of Princeton. The quote is: “Evil never dies and—like liberty—it demands constant vigilance. We are commanded to remember not for the sake of the past, but for the sake of the future.” Moses carries Joseph’s bones  in order to symbolize legacy. The symbolism of Amelek calls on us to examine part of our legacy. What kind of world will we leave to those who follow us? Will our generation, forged in the midst of social unrest and great social change, retreat now that we are elders? We will, by apathy or denial, allow Amelek to continue? These are questions raised by this portion.

What is your Amelek?

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Richard F AddressB

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