We read Parshas Zachor this Shabbos, im yirtzeh Hashem, about remembering the story of Amalek and our obligation to destroy them. Chazal instituted fulfilling this mitzvah on the Shabbos before Purim because, as Rashi explains (Megilah 29a), “This is in order to have the destruction of Amalek be read and discussed just about contiguously with the destruction of Haman.” Sefer Hachinuch writes in the mitzvah (603) to remember the story of Amalek that an even better time for this would have been on Purim itself, since Haman was a descendant of Amalek. Yet we are told to do it before to recall thereby that this mitzvah indeed precedes the story of Purim!
The galus in which the story of Purim occurred was during the second of the four galuyos that the Jews are supposed to undergo: Bavel, Media-Persia, Greece, Rome. This means Purim is, historically speaking, the story of our oppression under the Persian Empire, and Yisrael’s salvation from that Empire. Achashveirosh used Haman to carry out a nefarious scheme; and the Jews were saved, leading to what was basically the end of this second galus. The Amalek angle seems to be a curious coincidence, nothing more. Right? Then why does the Gemara (Megilah 7a) relate that Esther wanted the megilah to be canonized into Nach, and how the rabbis at first rejected her request, because a pasuk was found which implied that a story of Amalek’s destruction would be written only three times in Nach, thus precluding Megilas Esther (it already was written once in Shemos, once in Devarim, and once in Shmuel). Chazal then found a different drashah which allowed its being recorded a fourth time. That means that the essence of Megilas Esther is the story of a part-destruction of Amalek. How does that fit with the obvious historical reality that the galus of Persia was at play here? Which is it?
Amalek first appears on the world scene after Bnei Yisrael traveled from Midbar Sin, complaining loudly and bitterly over the lack of water. The pasuk states, “And Moshe called the name of that encampment “Masah Umerivah” — “Testing and Arguing,” commemorating Bnei Yisrael’s arguing and testing of Hashem, asking, “Is Hashem among us or not?” Whereupon, as the next pasuk states, “And Amalek came…”
Mechilta, echoed by Rashi, states, “Bnei Yisrael at that time can be compared to someone carrying his son on his shoulders, and giving the son whatever he desires. With all his needs taken care of, the son says, ‘Have you seen my father, I wonder where he is?’ ” Here, too, Bnei Yisrael began to wonder if Hashem was among them or not, and Hashem responded, “I will show you that I am here; I will hurl you down and the dog [Amalek] will come and bite you!” Mechilta makes clear that the obligation to recall the story of Amalek includes the obligation to recall what led up to it — “Is Hashem among us or not?” It is only clarity about Hashem’s presence among us, His control of teva and mastery over it, which will destroy and dispel Amalek.
The Netziv in Ha’emek Davar explains how Bnei Yisrael could wonder about Hashem’s presence among them after all the miracles they had just witnessed! He explains: their question was whether, when the era of Moshe Rabbeinu came to an end and they would perhaps no longer be worthy of those open miracles, would Hashem continue in a world of teva to be there for them and protect them from all travails. The purpose of the enemy Amalek is to try to put forth the idea that the natural world functions without the Creator at its helm. And thus as the rush of miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim come to an end, Amalek attacked! This is part of the idea why “Hashem’s Throne is not complete until the eradication of Amalek,” since His complete Kingship calls for His control of all forces. This is why we say Hashem’s Kingship is complete when His control and mastery over teva is recognized and acknowledged.
The commandment to totally destroy Amalek is neither cruel nor barbarous. We are not punishing Amalek, nor taking revenge on them. Amalek represents a force in the beriah which negates Hashem’s all-inclusive sovereignty; thus there is no room for them in a perfect world.
This is why Amalek is called a letz (a scoffer and mocker) by Chazal, for he is the essence of mockery, negating and scorning the lessons Yetzias Mitzrayim were meant to show. Seeing that it had had its intended effect, Amalek rushed to neutralize that lesson, showing they were unafraid and willing to provoke this Power.
Especially fitting is the fact that the Purim miracle showed precisely that — Hashem’s mastery and complete subjugation of the “natural” world, as He maneuvered the events of the megilah as He does to all events, to produce the results He wants!
We find in a few sources in Chazal that the second earthly kingdom to subjugate and oppress Israel is Media-Persia. Yet it was Haman and Amalek who seem to have center stage.
The Gemara (Megilah 14a) compares Achashveirosh and Haman to two people, one who had a mound in his field, the other, a pit; each always wished he could buy the other’s object, for he needed it take care of the item in his field. Finally they met and realized that each had something the other one wanted, and they had a mutually beneficial exchange.
We can understand why Haman needed Achashveirosh; he himself could not destroy a people. But why does the mashal hold true for Achashveirosh? Why did he need Haman? He was king, his word was law!
There is no question that the four malchiyus which oppress Bnei Yisrael are powered by the spiritual malady that the malchus tries to embed into Klal Yisrael; this is where they get their power to physically do what they do to us. Persia very clearly represents hedonism, pleasure-seeking, self-absorption. That is also a way to shut out spirituality — and thus Hashem — out of our everyday lives. Yet it does not have that totality of negation of any aspect or vestige of spirituality, since these items can be used in avodas Hashem. For total negation you need leitzanus, to make a mockery out of anything holy or spiritual. Amalek needed Achashveirosh, because the nation of Israel would never go along with something blatantly G-dless. It is when they are trapped into it because of a decadent, libertine lifestyle. And that’s the story of the two field owners! Each needs, and uses, the other.
Thus, the malchus is Persia which mires one in this world, sunk in physical pleasure and anti-kedushah. And Amalek was the perfect one to make it happen.