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The twenty eighth day of the Omer


Who were the Amalekites? A nomadic tribe who attacked and attempted to despoil the Israelites who had just crossed through the Sea and who now found themselves – since the waters had returned, drowning the Egyptian army – unable to go back again. In Deuteronomy 25:17-19 they are described as war criminals, for they attacked the weak and the tired, and – most importantly of all – ''they did not fear God''. Despite all the evidence of the miraculous salvation of this band of runaway slaves, they treated the Israelites as – presumably – just another bunch of potential victims in the desert to be robbed, raped, murdered. The Israelites were in shock – after all they had gone through in recent weeks they could not conceive of anyone still resistant to the idea that God had intervened in human history. This denial struck at the roots of the nascent self-identification of the Hebrews as a people to be identified with this God who had made promises to the Patriarchs, who had just rescued them and who would now lead them onwards.

The Amalekites were beaten back. We do not read how many were killed, or wounded, or their camels taken. In terms of the culture of nomadic tribes of the time and until the present this was just a routine attack and the Amalekites must have been taken by surprise that the resistance was so much stronger than they had expected.

The Amalekites become the prototypes of all those others who, since that time, ''have not feared God'', who have felt that the 'Hebrews' or 'Israelites' or 'Jews' were a legitimate target for their hatred and greed. Centuries later King Agag and even Haman in Shushan are linked to this tribe. From the very beginning of our history as a people, and up until the present, there have been those who ''do not fear God'' and therefore have no respect for God's people. Pesach is linked not only to Shavuot but to Purim. We would do well to remain aware of this.

Rabbi Dr. Walter Rothschild


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