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Parshat Ki Titzei – The Coldness of Amalek

Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 )

Devarim, 25:17: Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you were leaving Egypt. That he happened upon you on the way, and he killed among you all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear God.

Rashi, 25:18: sv. That he happened upon you on the way: [The word ‘korcha‘] expresses chance… Alternatively [the word ‘korcha‘] expresses cold and heat – Amalek chilled you and cooled you off from your boiling heat. For the nations were afraid to do battle with you and this one [Amalek] came and began to do battle, and showed a place for others. This can be compared to a boiling hot bath into which no person could descend. One scoundrel came, jumped and went down into it. Even though he was scalded he cooled it off for others.

The Parsha ends with the exhortation to remember Amalek’s heinous deed of attacking the Jewish people in the desert, and to commit to wiping out this evil nation. The Torah stresses that Amalek ‘happened upon’ the people. Rashi offers a number of explanations of what this refers to: one is that it expresses chance – that Amalek made it look like they encountered the people by chance, and not by any Providence. Another interpretation is that the word, ‘korcha‘ alludes to the word, ‘kor‘ which means cold. This alludes to the analogy of how Amalek cooled down the nations’ fear of the Jewish people.(1) Everyone else feared the nation as a result of the great miracles of the Exodus, but the Amalekim were totally unmoved and attacked regardless of the disastrous consequences. A number of questions arise: Why did Amalek respond so differently from the other nations? Furthermore, is there any connection between the reasons that Rashi brings, given that they emanate from a definition of the same word; korcha.

It seems that the Amalekites had a totally different outlook from the rest of the world. The non-Jews worshipped false gods but they believed in the idea of a power guiding a nation. Accordingly, they believed in the ‘God of the Jews’ and paid heed to His protection of the Jewish people. Amalek, in contrast, seem to have been atheists. They believed in no force, therefore they attributed all of the wondrous events of the Exodus to chance. Accordingly, they could ignore all the signs and jump into the boiling bathtub.

This understanding demonstrates the connection between Rashi’s two interpretations. Amalek viewed everything as being a result of happenstance, therefore, they attributed even the greatest miracles to chance. Consequently, they remained totally cold and unmoved by all the events of the Exodus. Their brazen disregard for the great miracles that took place also served to weaken the fear of the other nations by placing an element of doubt as to whether these events were merely the result of chance.

We have seen that the root of Amalek’s evil was their belief in the randomness of events and the accompanying total rejection of a Higher Being. This caused them to react ‘coldly’ to everything that they witnessed, and even to cause other nations to ‘cool down’ their fear of the Jewish people. This attitude is something that is unique to Amalek amongst all the nations, and in a certain sense, poses more of a danger to Torah observance than the idolatrous beliefs of the other nations. It causes ‘believing’ Jews to lose their sense of wonder about the miracles that surround them, and to even subconsciously attribute them to chance. Moreover, it prevents a person from learning from events around him, making him immune to the lessons that God sends him. In this vein, Rav Sternbuch discusses a person who merits to see the salvations of God and His wonders, yet remains blind to what goes on around him, and is not aroused to fear HaShem. Rav Sternbuch writes that such a person should know that he is surrounded by impurity and is under the influence of Amalek.(2) As we approach the High Holy Days it is essential to take this lesson to heart; before a person can do teshuva and make a plan for the year he needs to be aware of God’s constant involvement in his life.

By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen


[1] See Rashi for a third allusion.
[2] Taam v’Daas, Devarim, Ki Teitzei, 25:18, p.163.

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