Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
The beauty and the tragedy of Torah is that by being a part of this neverending story of what it means to be human, we see that the struggles that we are encountering here and now are the same human struggles that we have always faced.
And so it is no surprise that Torah has a frame for understanding the moment we are now living in, a time when it seems that our society has decided to go group by group, villainizing the most vulnerable among us. From transgender kids to undocumented Americans; from people of color to Muslim Americans, to Americans with disabilities, it seems we are living in a moment not of empathy, but of self-serving tribalism. But it is not a new enemy that we are facing, it is instead just a new manifestation of an ancient foe.
Our oldest stories say that they were a tribe who attacked us mercilessly while we were refugees from Egyptian slavery, but would never face us directly in battle. Instead, they would attack the rear of our encampment, where the sick, the elderly, and the infirm were. It was the nature of Amalek to always attack the vulnerable. It’s why our Torah gave us an eternal command: that no matter where or when we find Amelek, we must utterly wipe them off of the face of the earth.
But our rabbis taught us an important truth about Amalek: they aren’t an ethnicity, or an ideology, or a religious community. Amalek isn’t an identity, it’s an inclination. Amalek is within each of us. It is the voice that justifies our demonization of other groups of people. Amalek is found in the insidious white supremacy of American society, and in the deep classism when I casually suggest that the problem is “Uneducated white trash.” It is found in the misogyny in Washington, but also in the ways that I let the world treat my daughters differently from my sons.
Torah is clear: one of the reasons that we are here, one of our very purposes in creation, is to wipe out Amalek. But this is a commandment that is dangerous. For when we identify any group, whether religious, ethnic, or ideological, as irredeemably Amalek, then we have turned into the very enemy that we have sworn to defeat. We must always remember that the fight against Amalek is a fight against an inclination within each of us. Within me, within you, within our parents, and within our kids.
So let us #resist with passion and with determination, but let our resistance begin not outside of us but within each and every one of our souls.
Rabbi Daniel Bogard is a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and is featured in the NoJokeProject.com Documentary/Book/Tour.