Parshat Tetzaveh usually precedes Purim, when we read the “maftir”portion describing how Amalek attacked the Jewish people as they left Egypt – even though Amalek lived in a distant land and was under no imminent threat. So why did Amalek attack?
Rabbi Shraga Simmons explains: ‘The Torah says that Amalek attacked the Jews “karcha” – which literally means by way of happenstance. Amalek’s entire philosophy is that there is no design or providence in the world. Everything is haphazard, dictated by chance, luck and fate. That’s why Haman, a direct descendent of Amalek, decided to kill the Jews based on a lottery, from which the name “Purim” is derived. Philosophically, Amalek and the Jewish people stand at opposite ends of the spectrum. Judaism believes that the world has purpose and meaning, and that God is intimately involved in our lives. Indeed, that is the very lesson of Purim: Even when things seems bleak, God is there, guiding events. With Haman’s decree, it seemed that the Jews were doomed. But then there was a dramatic turnabout. In our own lives, to the extent we may doubt God’s involvement, is the extent that Amalek’s philosophy of randomness is part of us.
The Kabbalists point out the numerical value of Amalek — 240 — is the same as safek, meaning “doubt.” The energy of Amalek is to create doubts about what is true and real in this world, and of God’s role in directing events in the best possible way. This concept is so important that one of 613 mitzvot is to remember what Amalek did. And that’s what we do, every year, on the Shabbat before Purim. So let’s take this message to heart, and do our part – to fight Amalek’s idea of a random world.’
But Rashi offers other explanations, one of which is quite fascinating. Rashi suggests that “asher karcha” can mean “he who cooled you off,” and he offers the metaphor of a seething cauldron or tub of boiling water, which Amalek cooled off by jumping into it. Rabbi Weinrib elaborates: ‘The seething cauldron can be a metaphor for either the fear with which the other witnessing nations were overcome, which was dissipated by Amalek’s precedent. Alternatively, it can be a metaphor for the bubbling enthusiasm of the triumphant Jewish people, which was diminished, perhaps permanently, by the effects of Amalek’s attack.
Rabbi Isaac Hutner, in his posthumously published essays on Purim, takes the latter approach. “The Jewish people,” he writes, “were full of a spiritual energy and optimism that was dimmed by the scoffer Amalek.” The scoffing cynic has the ability to burst the bubble of enthusiasm with a shrug and a “so what?” or “big deal!” Amalek rained on our parade…It would be instructive to remember Amalek as the cynical scoffer who would diminish our fervor and spirit. In remembering him in this manner, we would also do well to resolve that we ourselves are never guilty of mocking the accomplishments of others. We must be careful not to rain on the parade of other human beings, but rather to appreciate their accomplishments with neither envy nor disparagement.’