"The king of Amalek waged war against Israel and took a captive from them." (Num. 21:1)

Amalek attacked the Israelites when they first left Egypt and were on their way to receive the Torah, and here again as they were preparing to enter the Land of Israel. In the first skirmish, they did not disguise themselves, but here they did.

Our inner Amalek does not oppose receiving the Torah, only our excitement about it….

Allegorically, Amalek is the element of doubt that cools the enthusiasm we are supposed to feel towards G‑d and our divine mission. In this sense, our inner Amalek does not oppose receiving the Torah, only our excitement about it. After all, he argues, learning the Torah is an intellectual endeavor. Reason requires a calm, seasoned attitude, not fiery enthusiasm. In particular, he argues against our passionate commitment to G‑d's laws even before we have learned what they are. "If the Torah is true," he contends, "we will eventually commit to it even if we predicate action on study. Why be so impetuous and irrational?"

In fact, however, the Amalekite attitude will eventually lead us off the Torah's path. Unless we approach the Torah with the warmth and enthusiasm that flow naturally from relating to it as G‑d's will and wisdom, we will lose interest in it and squander our energies on diversions and lifestyles that offer more immediate gratification, whether material or spiritual.

If the inner Amalek fails to cool us off, he will disguise himself as a Canaanite, an inhabitant of the land of material life we enter after our daily prayers and studies. He will then argue, "I have no quarrel with your acting holy and G‑dly while you pray and study the Torah. But when you set about to earn your living and deal with the physical world, you have to forget all of that and live by my rules. You cannot expect to succeed in the real world if you refuse to work on the Shabbat and festivals, if you donate any significant amount of your hard-earned money to charity, if you insist on providing your children with the best Jewish education, and so on. You must focus on material success, not on elevating material reality and raising divine consciousness wherever you go and whatever you do."

The inner Amalek behaves the way Amalek behaved in this historical episode: "…[he] took a captive from them." Someone the Israelites had originally captured from the Amalekites. "The material world," Amalek maintains, "belongs to me. You are the one who - by transforming the material into the spiritual - is stealing from me what is rightfully mine."

Just as Amalek attacked us at the beginning and end of our trek in the desert, we engage him in the beginning and end of our post-desert history. G‑d commanded King Saul, the first king of Israel, to wipe out Amalek. Because Saul did not follow G‑d's instructions fully, a later descendant of Amalek, Haman, almost wiped out the Jews completely. Now, as we stand at the end of our post-desert history, on the eve of our final entry into the Land of Israel, we must face Amalek once again.

When we remind ourselves of our intrinsic bond with G‑d, Amalek is powerless to overcome us….

As before, Amalek disguises himself as the sophisticated businessman, making light of our commitment to G‑d's Torah. Once again, he argues, "Forget what the Torah has to say about business ethics, honesty, morality, and responsibility. Forget that G‑d is guiding your steps and that you need His help to succeed. No one believes this, much less acts on it. Your job is to make money, and in the dog-eat-dog world of workaday reality, you have to play by the rules if you expect to survive."

The Torah here tells us that even though it sounds like we're talking to an astute businessman, we should recognize that it is really Amalek, the archenemy of Israel, who is talking. Despite his concessions to our private spiritual life, his goal is to wipe us out. Therefore, the only proper response to this inner voice is to wipe it our first, by constantly renewing our impetuous enthusiasm for G‑d and His Torah, and our desire to see it assume its rightful role as our guide in all aspects of life.

"By the route the spies had taken…and when they saw the Ark of the Covenant."

The inner Amalek attacks us in two ways. Sometimes he attacks via the intellect, explaining why we should succumb to his suggestions and ignore our commitments to G‑d and our better selves. In such cases, it is often enough to marshal our intellectual powers against him, pausing to contemplate how unprofitable it is to follow his lead on the one hand, and how wise it is to remain true to our higher calling on the other. This is "the route the spies had taken" - seeking out the natural means of conquering the enemy and using them.

At other times, the inner Amalek brazenly defies logic, insisting on our obedience without any regard to rhyme or reason. In such cases, our logical resources are of no help; we can only fall back on our transcendent relationship with G‑d that also surpasses reason and intellect. When we remind ourselves of our intrinsic bond with G‑d, Amalek is powerless to overcome us. This is relying on "the Ark of the Covenant", which scatters all our enemies before us.

[Based on Likutei Sichot vol. 1, pp. 208-213; vol. 38; pp. 83-84]

Copyright 2001 chabad of california / www.lachumash.org