A friend once told me about a frightening incident. He was swimming at a beach in Israel and all of a sudden felt himself being pulled by an undertow. For several minutes he fought back and treaded water with all his might. Finally he had no more strength; he couldn’t fight any longer. So he gave up. Remarkably, he recounted that this was the most peaceful moment of his life. He had accepted that he was going to drown and was incredibly relieved to not have to struggle any more.
There are two types of peace in life: a real peace and a false peace. A real peace is when we try our best, understand our limitations and hope for a better future, while not looking negatively at our current situation. This type of peace is praiseworthy and essential for spiritual growth. But there is another peace. Let’s call it the peace of Amalek.
Amalek is our greatest spiritual threat. Interestingly, he does not attack us head-on because he knows that won’t work. We are not called a “stiff-necked people” for nothing. Just like during the civil rights movement, the anti-apartheid movement and many others, Jews have never tired of standing up for what they believe in. Instead, the Torah reveals Amalek’s battle plan: “He cooled you off by cutting down all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary, and did not fear God” (Deuteronomy 25:18). This plan is so dangerous that we are implored, “You shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget!” (ibid. 25:19).
Every chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If our spirituality could be likened to a rope connecting us to God, Amalek is the force that attacks precisely at the most threadbare spot. Just as he attacked the stragglers at the rear who were faint and weary, and just as his descendent Haman attacked the Jewish people when the prophecy of our redemption had seemingly expired, so too, he attacks each one of us at precisely calculated moments.
Have you ever made an effort to improve something in your life, perhaps an important relationship with a child or spouse, or a specific character trait like anger or self-control? Initially you invest tremendous energy and effort, but soon enough things take a turn and you feel yourself sliding backwards. You become filled with anxiety and worry; you second-guess your own abilities and sincerity. Perhaps you redouble your efforts, but a short time later, again things aren’t going the way you imagined they would. Like my friend treading water, eventually you take a deep breath and say to yourself, “I’ve had enough of this already.” You accept your limitations and once again feel at peace. Welcome to Amalek’s peace!
Negative emotions associated with fear, like worry and anxiety, are not bad. Without them, we would walk around without awareness and waste our lives engaged in destructive behaviors. What’s flawed is our negative perception of these emotions. Amalek uses our negativity against us: “Give up trying already, this is obviously not for you!” We then fall into a spiritual and mental slumber.
God is the source of everything and, just like in Megillah, all of history is following a script that will lead to a happy ending. The Megillah story reveals that as bad as things seem now, the difficulties are really paving the way for our eventual salvation. Like Esther who tried to execute an impossible plan in the most precarious of situations, it’s our job to never give up trying. Purim teaches us to transform our fear to joy because we know that every counterforce will ultimately propel us forward. I know that even if I fall back, I need to keep my head above water, because this experience itself is conditioning me for greatness.
Now, that’s something to dance about!
Based on Likutey Halakhot, Hilkhot Bechor Beheimah Tehorah 4