Remember what Amalek did to you, on the way, when you were leaving Egypt, that they happened upon you on the way, and struck those at the rear and the weak, when you were faint and exhauseted, and they did not fear God. It shall be when the Lord your God gives you rest from the enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God has given you as an inheritance to possess, you shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under heaven – you shall not forget! (Devarim 25:17-19)
The commandment to ‘wipe out the memory of Amalek’ raises many questions. How could God have given a genocidal Mitzvah? Assuming that the people involved were all evil, what did their offsrping do to deserve the same punishment?
There are many different approaches to dealing with a Mitzvah that appears to be unethical. As a Modern Orthodox Jew, the answer can not be that this line is not from God. One could choose to view this Mitzvah within the context of the Ancient Near East and its rules of war. None the less, my expectations are higher when reading God’s rules of war.
Perhaps we can look at this issue from another angle. One has to wonder why Bnei Yisrael left people at the rear who were weak and tired. Is it not the responsibility of the community to insure the safety of those people who are at the greatest risk? Would it not have been wise to place some military protection at the rear of the camp? (See http://www.tanach.org/special/zachor/bshs2.htm for an analysis of the pesukim that raises similar questions.)
The fact that Amalek was able to attack in such a pernicious fashion was exacerbated by the Jewish People’s lack of concern for those most in need. What a sad statement about Bnei Yisrael in the desert.
Unfortunately we live in a community that is all too similar. People with challenges, emotional, psychological or physical, are made to feel at the “back of the camp.” People who suffer from depression, alchoholism and so many other diseases are made to feel that the Jewish Community, especially the Orthodox community, is not for them.
What happens to those Jews who feel this way? Their lonliness drives them away from yiddishkeit and sometimes drives them to much worse than that. If only we were able to help all Jews feel as a “part of the camp” or the family. If only…