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Who Cares?

Who Cares?


Remember what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt. That he encountered you on the way and cut off those lagging to your rear, when you were tired and exhausted; he did not fear G‑d. . . . [Therefore,] you must obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget.

Deuteronomy 25:17–19

Who is this nation of Amalek that deserves such harsh recognition? The fledgling Jewish nation had many enemies, and yet it is only Amalek whom the Torah singles out and tells us to obliterate their memory, enjoining us: “Do not forget.”

Amalek encountered the Jewish people just after they escaped from the clutches of the Egyptians. Doubt is irrational, and yet it can penetrate almost any rational mediumThe Torah tells us in Exodus (ch. 17) that “the people of Israel journeyed . . . and they camped in Rephidim. . . . [Moses] named the place ‘Challenge and Strife,’ because of the strife of the people of Israel and their challenging of G‑d, saying, ‘Is G‑d amongst us or not?’ Then came Amalek and attacked Israel in Rephidim.”

The Torah describes the explicit sequence: the Jewish people expressed their doubts, saying “Is G‑d amongst us?”—and the next thing that happened was Amalek’s attack. Not only did their skepticism make them vulnerable to attack, but it was because Amalek sensed their uncertainty that they took advantage of the young nation.

Doubt is a funny thing. It’s irrational, and yet it can penetrate almost any rational medium. Here was a nation that had experienced the greatest miracles of all time: the ten plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea and the manna. And yet they were not impervious to the plague of doubt.

My mind travels back to high school. One afternoon we were privileged to hear an engaging talk from a world-renowned lecturer. She was intelligent and funny, and wove together an inspirational message. I sat spellbound. After she had finished, I stayed seated to take in her words for another minute. That’s when I overheard a conversation rolling behind me. “Did you like her?” one voice questioned. “Like her? Whatever, they’re all the same. Anyhow, I couldn’t care less, ’cuz we got to miss class.” The first voice responded, “Totally!”

Like a sharp pin pierces a large balloon, I slowly felt my inspiration deflate. They hadn’t refuted the logic or veracity of the lecture, only made a few mocking comments. But I began to doubt.

This is the nature of doubt. It circumvents logic and proceeds to erode away beliefs.

In the Hebrew language, every word has a numerological value. Remember that apathy is an empty rivalThe word Amalek shares the same numerological value as the word safek, doubt. Amalek represents the destructive spiritual force that capitalizes on a doubtful moment and introduces yet another destructive element—irrational indifference.

The Midrash describes Amalek’s attack as follows:

What is the incident [of Amalek] comparable to? To a boiling tub of water which no creature was able to enter. Along came one evildoer and jumped into it. Although he was burned, he cooled it for the others.

So too, when Israel came out of Egypt, and G‑d split the sea before them and drowned the Egyptians within it, the fear of them fell upon all the nations. But when Amalek came and challenged them, although he received his due from them, he cooled the awe of the nations of the world for them.1

This is why G‑d commanded us to remember Amalek for all generations. Intellect will lead a person to pursue truth, idealism and spirituality. But doubt and apathy will look truth in the face and exclaim, “So what?”

G‑d tells us: Remember your inner enemy, Amalek. Remember that apathy is an empty rival.

It does, however, serve one purpose: it challenges the one in doubt to reaffirm and strengthen his faith in G‑d.

Tanchuma, Ki Teitzei 9.
Mrs Rochel Holzkenner is a mother of four children and the co-director of Chabad of Las Olas, Fla., serving the community of young professionals. She is a high-school teacher and a freelance writer—and a frequent contributor to She lectures extensively on topics of Kabbalah and feminism, and their application to everyday life.
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Anonymous August 26, 2015

Doubt: Cause for punishment? -Or just telling the truth? This is somewhat perplexing. Many observant Jews extol the virtues of free will, of deciding for oneself. If that's so, why such admonishment of doubt? Wouldn't it be better to tell the truth about doubt? (which spurs us to ask more and deeper questions?) Not talking about apathy here which is something else entirely. But doubt and questioning is essential to coming to a deeper understanding. Reply

shmuel Uganda August 26, 2015

Thank you Rebbe This articles is so inspiring that i have come to know the dangers of doubt that is within me. Reply

Ryan Michael Gelb Woodmere August 25, 2015

I like the Midrash analogy about taking one for the team, however everyone has demons that represent Amalek. This just goes to show that the Jewish people have to work together, especially in times of need. Reply

Joseph5716 Ct. August 25, 2015

Toda raba,I needed to "hear this " Reply

Lynelle Osburn Australia August 25, 2015

Doubt Thank you Rochel. I have made this quote of yours my screen saver message.
Intellect will lead a person to pursue truth, idealism and spirituality. But doubt and apathy will look truth in the face and exclaim, "so what?" With your name. Reply

Rolando VA August 25, 2015

In this era of pluralism essay on destructive nature of doubt and apathy is apt warning and good reminder to always affirm one's faith.
Thank you. Reply

Bentseyon Morton, PA August 25, 2015

Amalek Amalek wallows in doubt. Survival of the fittest is there motto. They make a religion of it. Let not the external amalek penetrate us and influence us. Reply

sunil subba India August 24, 2015

Being a beginner in Judaism, I literally took Amalek in another sense and your clarification made me realize that faith has to increase and that we have to be aware of the Amalek in us. Thanks for the clarification. Reply

mj,a noahide toronto July 25, 2015

having trouble with belief thanks for the amazing article on doubt, but how exactly do i deal with this "amalek"? Reply

Anonymous April 7, 2013

How do you and other people in the Chabad framework are so strong in your beliefs and give so much inspiration to other jews. How are you guys so committed to belieiving in the Jewish state,Judaism,The rebbe and in every Jew when we all have doubts as people do.

I am jealous... and curious of your strong standing faith. Reply

Anonymous Ft Worth, Texas September 10, 2012

Thank You! Thank You, for sharing your wisdom on so many things I have been dealing with. I'm learning how to leave the past, where it belongs -- in the past. Reply

Luisa Zitzer Buenos Aires, Argentina August 29, 2012

Who Cares? Thank you very much Rochel !!!! This is the first essay of yours I ever read. Please, go on publishing keeping the style of this one.
As a Family Mediator, your words on "doubt" are valuable for my sessions.
Shaná Tova

Virginia M. Mitchell Farmington Hills, iiM August 28, 2012

amalekites How do you deal with amalekites? Reply

holly holmstrom poplar bluff, Mo/USA September 5, 2011

Doubt I loved your article and am thirsty to know more of the teachings of the Midrash. I have come to believe that everything is spiritual!!! Nothing is of the ordinary or commonplace but everything has a reason and a purpose which will bring us closer to G-d or take us farther from Him. This story of Amalek reminds me that doubt is ... a spot in our feasts of charity, a feeding without fear; a cloud without water carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withers, twice dead plucked up by the roots. raging waves of the sea foaming out shame and a black star. Thank you for bringing to our rememberance the enemy without and also within, so that we may know that the battle is against spiritual wickedness not against flesh and blood and that victory is not by might nor by power but by the Spirit of G-d. Reply

Gary Smith Baltimore, Maryland, USA August 21, 2010

An answer to question about apathy... I also found this article very helpful for something I am dealing with at the moment. To your question, I always work with the idea that G-d is ever present and nothing exists outside of this ever presence. Since G-d is not apathetic, I view apathy not as a presence, but as a suggestion that G-d is not present. Not buying the suggestion I don't leave myself open to all that follows, just like this article showed. I simply refuse to accept that apathy is a part of me or anyone else, a part of my makeup or substance or being. My image and likeness is G-d expressed and nothing else. Reply

Anonymous San Francisco August 18, 2010

wow! Please write more, you are very inspiring! this is what i needed to hear Reply

Chaya Houston, Texas August 18, 2010

thank-you and question I LOVE THIS! i can't describe to you how much your article just hit it square on the button. and your high-school story sounds so familiar...thank-you so much. But how do you deal with this apathy? please reply!! Reply

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