Whom should one send mishlo’ach manot to on Purim, and with whom should he eat the meal? * The mitzvah of sending mishlo’ach manot on Purim is meant to be continued throughout the year, thus increasing love and unity among Jews * The mitzvah of reading the Megillah should be continued throughout the year by way of observing and seeing Hashem’s providence in everything that happens to us * The moral justification for the obliteration of Amalek is because they are a nation who based their economy on looting and killing other people
The Dilemmas of the Mitzvot of Purim
Often, the joy of Purim is accompanied by a sense of missed opportunity. Finally, the day arrives when we have a wonderful chance to make our relatives and friends happy with Mishlo’ach Manot (gifts of food or drink sent to family, friends and others on Purim day), and immediately, the question arises: Who to send to? After all, we cannot send gifts to all of our relatives, friends and several neighbors, and therefore, together with the decision of whom to send, we must decide to whom we cannot send. On the one hand, this is an opportunity to send Mishlo’ach Manot to neighbors with whom relations are strained or to friends we do not see that often due to everyday life, and by doing so express our heartfelt attitude towards them, and reestablish good relations. On the other hand, how can we neglect our good friends and relatives who stay in touch with us all year long and are always there when needed – and here on Purim, we forget them, and do not send them gifts? If we decide to send to many people, reluctantly, we will have to invest less time and effort with each mishlo’ach; if we decide to invest more in each mishlo’ach, against our will, we will have to send to fewer friends.
The same is true of the seudah (festive meal). It is a wonderful opportunity for the joy of a mitzvah, in which one can relax, open up, say everything on his heart, and express his love of God and Torah. However, in order to do so, one must find the right place, somewhere with good food and drinks, but most important – the right people. Then, once again, the question arises: With whom should we have the seudah – with the wife’s family, or the husband’s? With which friends — those who are more open and joyful, or those more intellectual and profound? With loyal friends who might be boring, or with the ones who know how to celebrate, and make things interesting? After considering all of this, a heavy fear creeps into one’s heart: no matter what we do, there will be relatives and friends who will be offended, so maybe it would better to partake in someone else’s dinner? Once again the question arises to whom, and how are we going to placate the person offended because we did not come to his meal. In the long run, maybe it would be better just to travel somewhere out of town, to relatives who eat the Purim meal with dairy foods, and drink grape juice, instead of wine…
Purim Illuminates for the Entire Year
The holiday of Purim is not disconnected from all other days of the year; rather, it is meant to give inspiration to the entire year. True, on Purim, we will only be able to send portions to some of our friends, but through Purim, we can open up and understand the beauty of Mishloach Manot, so that even during the week following Purim we will send nice homemade dishes to friends and acquaintances as well, and continue sending throughout the year. For example, when baking challot or cooking something nice for Shabbat, one can increase the quantity and send a pastry or serving to friends who had a busy week, or someone who has a birthday, or someone who got a new job. Thus, we will be able to continue the camaraderie revealed in the joy of Purim for the entire year.
The same holds true for the seudah. In practice, we can only dine with some of our friends and relatives, but as a result, we will strengthen our desire to participate in celebrations such as weddings, Brit Milah’s, siyyum’s, and other get-togethers of relatives and friends throughout the year. As a result, we will also learn to connect material joy to spiritual values, and the Divine mitzvot with friendship and love between man and his fellow companion.
This is also the case regarding the mitzvah of matanot le’evyonim (giving gifts to the poor), which will strengthen our will throughout the year to give ma’aser kesafim (monetary tithe), and chomesh (20%) for those granted an additional blessing by Hashem.
From the mitzvah to read the Megillah properly, we will be strengthened throughout the year in our orderly Torah study, without skipping any matters. From the mitzvah to hear the Megillah reading, we will strengthen ourselves in understanding Hashem’s guidance of the world, and learn to examine every issue from its historical and religious roots, until its halakhic appearance in practical life.
Why Obliterate Amalek
In order to better understand the reason for the commandment to obliterate Amalek, one must know that Amalek was a tribe that did not engage in agriculture or industry, but rather, trained its’ youth to conduct surprise attacks against villages and convoys and kill those they encountered, plunder their belongings, and sell the remaining men, women and children as slaves. It was difficult to wage war against them because they did not have a permanent base, and suddenly and unexpectedly, would appear at enormously distant locations, with large attacking forces. In order to protect themselves from Amalek, others would need to station large guarding forces in all towns close to the outlying areas. This being impossible, the Amalekites were able to kill and loot in their attacks, to the point where most of the people living in outlying places were forced to gather into crowded areas and vast expanses of land that could have provided food for sizable amounts of people remained desolate due to fear of the Amalekites.
Thus, immediately after Am Yisrael left the slavery of Egypt, still tired and weary from the arduous journey, Amalek came and attacked them. Instead of realizing the greatness of the miracle, or having mercy on the newly-released slaves, the Amalekites saw before them easy prey, and taking advantage of Israel’s weakness, began attacking the stragglers in the rear of the camp, in order to make a living by selling them as slaves, and plundering their possessions.
Even after Yehoshua on behalf of Moshe Rabbeinu fought and drove them away, it was clear this would not be the last battle; rather, every time Amalek would perceive signs of weakness, they would attack, kill, loot, and sit in wait for the next assault.
The Three Commandments related to the Obliteration of Amalekite
Consequently, we were commanded three mitzvot: 1) a positive commandment, to remember what Amalek did to us when we were leaving Egypt. 2) A negative commandment, not to forget what Amalek did to us. 3) A positive commandment to obliterate Amalek’s offspring from the world (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).
In order to annihilate Amalek, a large army was needed to encircle all the widespread areas from which they operated, locate them, block their escape routes, encounter them face-to-face, and destroy them. To do this, the Jewish nation would first have to establish themselves in the land, and be able to allocate large forces for long periods to fight Amalek, while assigning additional forces to protect the home front during the long and protracted military operation. Regarding this, our Sages said: “Three commandments were given to Israel when they entered the land: to appoint a king, to obliterate the seed of Amalek, and only after this, would we be able to fulfill the third commandment – to build the Holy Temple” (Sanhedrin 20b).
The History of Obliterating Amalekite
After the establishment of the reign of King Saul, Israel’s first king, the time had come to obliterate Amalek and their animals. The possible explanation why Israel was commanded to obliterate the animals was so they would not benefit from gezel (stolen goods), for all of Amalek’s property was stolen. And perhaps if Israel were allowed to enjoy the spoils, they would prefer to make an alliance with Amalek, allowing them to continue looting the cities of neighboring peoples in return for part of the spoils, and the guarding of the borders.
The apprehension was confirmed. King Saul did not fulfill the commandment appropriately, had mercy on Agag king of Amalek and the choice sheep and cattle, and ended the battle while many Amalekites were still alive. Apparently, instead of ending the war, he preferred to capture Agag so he would continue reigning over the remaining Amalekites under the subordination of Israel, in order to guard the edge of the desert for Israel.
Because of the breach of the commandment, God transferred the kingdom from Saul and gave it to David, however the terrible damage had already been done. The Amalekites continued attacking Israel. A few years later, while David and his men were at war against the Philistines, the Amalekite battalion raided the city of Zeklag, burnt the city down, and took all their wives and children captive. By the grace of God, David and his men rescued the captives, and struck the battalion (see Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 5: 5).
Our Sages further related that from the time Saul delayed the killing Agag, he fathered a son or a daughter, and from them, his seed continued until the evil Haman (Megillah 13a).
The Moral Logic of the Commandment
The moral logic of the commandment is clear – just as Amalek did to all the cities they looted, the same should be done to them. Actually, Amalek generally did not kill all the inhabitants of the cities they conquered, however, that was only because they hoped to profit from selling them as slaves, but when they found no buyers – they killed them.
This measure of retribution is also necessary in order to create deterrence, for whoever concedes to his enemies and fails to avenge them appropriately, encourages them to continue fighting. The great empires severely punished their foes, thus creating a deterrent that maintained their rule for centuries.
Amalekites May Repent
Although the Torah commanded to obliterate the offspring of Amalek, if an Amalekite decides to observe the Seven Noahide commandments, he is no longer judged as an Amalekite. Not only that, the Torah commanded that before we wage war against Amalek we offer them peace, in other words, to accept the Seven Noahide commandments, subjugation to Israel, and to pay tribute. If they accept, we do not wage war against them. If they refuse – we must go to war against them, until their complete destruction (Rambam, Laws of Kings, 6:1-4, Kesef Mishneh there).
Thus, unlike the Nazi policy in which a person with even the slightest trace of Jewish origin was murdered, according to Jewish law Amalekites can save themselves by way of dismissing their heritage, and accepting the moral principles of the Seven Noahide commandments. This right is reserved for all individuals, all families, and even the entire nation.
Accordingly, the ideal way to fulfill the mitzvah of obliterating Amalek is for them to repent. If they do not, there is an alternative way that is also le’chatchila (ideal) – to annihilate them in war.
In practice, the mitzvah has been fulfilled be’di’avad (in a less-than-ideal manner): over the years, the descendants of Amalek were scattered and assimilated among the nations, their trace of origin was lost, and the judgement of Amalek was annulled without their having repented.
Moreover, according to Rambam, Amalekites can convert to Judaism (Hilkhot Issurei Bi’ah 12:17); thus, some of Haman’s descendants converted and taught Torah in Bnei Brak. There are some poskim, however, who are of the opinion that an Amalekite cannot convert; nevertheless, even according to their opinion, many of them say that be’di’avad, if they converted, their conversion is valid (Yeshuot Malcho).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.