The Tailgater

You're behind a heavy truck doing 30 mph: you wait for the opportune time to pass, step on the gas, and leave the truck behind. That works fine with a truck, but not with Amalek…

3 min

Rabbi Lazer Brody

Posted on 18.04.23

The Torah tells us that Amalek attacked the “rear” of the Israelite encampment[1], those who were spiritually weak and who fell behind the rest of Jewish People. As we read the “Remembrance of Amalek”, known as maftir Zchor,[2] we learn several characteristics about Amalek. More specifically, we learn about the negative spiritual force known as Amalek, as follows: first, spiritual strength is the only thing that enables us to protect ourselves against Amalek, who represents the force of evil that forever tries to pull a person in the opposite direction of emuna. Second, Amalek attacks from the rear, not from the front. And third, Amalek attacks the individual Jew and the Jewish nation as a whole at their weakest, most vulnerable point. Let’s elaborate on these three characteristics:


Spiritual strength is the only protection against Amalek


What gives a person spiritual strength? The answer in one succinct word is emuna. A person with strong emuna can weather any test, tribulation or challenge that comes his or her way. When the Torah teaches us that Amalek attacks the rear of the encampment, the spiritually weak, what does it mean? Figuratively, our spiritual guides and leaders are at the front of the encampment, leading the way for the rest of the nation. Our spiritual leadership teaches us emuna and the proper way to get close to Hashem. Those in the figurative “rear” are far away from the spiritual leadership and their teachings. As such, they are vulnerable to the prime weapons of Amalek – doubt and heresy. Doubt and heresy yield negativity – pessimism, frustration and despair, when a person sees no logical solution to his plight. Such a person is not only neutralized, for he can’t fight any of life’s battles effectively, if at all, he falls captive to Amalek. He no longer controls his emotions for he is under Amalek’s control. His life now becomes an ongoing saga of bitterness. Therefore, the only protection against Amalek as well as the only effective weapon against Amalek is emuna.


Amalek attacks from the rear


Amalek is a “tailgater”. How?

In the Maariv prayer, we ask Hashem to remove the Satan (aka Amalek) from in front of us and from behind us. We would think that it would be sufficient for Hashem to get Amalek out of our way and let us serve Hashem in peace. Imagine that you’re driving on the freeway in a 65 mph zone and you’re behind a heavy truck that is traveling at the speed of 30 mph: you wait for the opportune time to pass, step on the gas, and leave the truck behind in your dust. That’s fine with a truck, but it’s not sufficient with Amalek. Amalek tries to block a person from doing a mitzvah – learning Torah, talking to Hashem, and so forth. Once a person steps on his spiritual accelerator and passes Amalek, he would think that he has left Amalek behind. That’s not so. Once a person “passes” Amalek and overtakes the obstacle, Amalek now tailgates and pushes from behind – “Do more, do more!” Amalek will try to break down the boundaries that Torah sets; Amalek will say, “How can you refuse this person’s request for charity”, when you’ve already given away 20% of your income that month. Amalek is willing to let you have a small mitzvah in order to neutralize you from doing much bigger mitzvoth. Amalek will be happy to let a person learn Torah all night long in order to make him dreary for the next three days, where he doesn’t function properly either at work or in his Torah learning. That’s why one must beware of Amalek both when he’s tailgating us and when he is blocking us from the front.


Amalek attacks the individual Jew and the Jewish Nation at their weakest point


The weakest point, both of the individual and of the nation, is where emuna is weak, for as we already mentioned, emuna is the only protection against Amalek. Amalek, on a national scale, is the tragic and erroneous feeling that “we must take our fate into our own hands.” Amalek loves such an attitude, for it creates a severance with Hashem, Heaven forbid. Once a person is severed from Hashem, he becomes easy prey for Amalek.


The miracles of Purim come to give us a triple strengthening of emuna: enhanced belief in Hashem, in our spiritual leaders and in ourselves. We see how Hashem, by way of the courageous leadership of Esther and Mordechai, saved us from Haman’s[3] evil decree of genocide. We see how our prayers, fasting, teshuva and adherence to the directives of the true tzaddikim saved us. These are lessons we must never forget, neither as a nation nor as individuals. This is the lesson of Shabbat Zchor.

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[1] Deuteronomy 25:18

[2] Read on the Shabbat before Purim

[3] Haman was a direct descendant of Amalek

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