July 12, 2005, Netanya: five people murdered. July 7, 2005, London: 52 people murdered. March 11, 2004, Madrid: 191 people murdered. November 15, 2003, Turkey: 62 people murdered. August 5, 2003, Indonesia: 12 people murdered. October 12, 2002, Bali: 202 people murdered. September 11, 2001, New York City: 3,000 people murdered...

They are one and the same

Suicide bombings. Hijackings. Beheadings. Shootings. Stabbings . . . Planes. Trains. Subways. Buses. Convention Centers. Hotels. Discos. Pizza Parlors . . .

Al Qaeda. Jihad. Hamas. PLO. Bin Laden. Arafat. Armed Islamic Group. Abu Nidal Organization. Hizballah. Al Aksa Brigade . . .


You can call it by any name you want. You can pick virtually any location, anywhere in the world. The details change but the basic facts remain the same. Throughout history, there have been those who have sought to destroy humanity. There have been those who have killed for the sake of killing, whose goal has been to eradicate freedom, peace and harmony. These enemies may span the religious spectrum. They may span the cultural and geographical and racial spectrum. But ultimately, they are one and the same.

When a terrorist attack strikes our country, our community, our home, fear sets in. Why? What is so traumatic about a terror attack? What differentiates terrorism from every other form of death? Why has the US government dedicated billions of dollars and resources to search for and eliminate terror cells throughout the world?

If we look at statistics, in the past 10 years, there have been roughly 8,000 people throughout the world murdered at the hands of terrorists. Yet in the last year alone, over 38,000 people were killed in the United States just from car accidents.

Logically, if terrorism scares us so much, we should be ten times as scared to get behind the wheel of our car. Driving on the freeway should be a terrifying experience to be avoided at all costs. And yet the majority of us do it, day after day, without a second thought. How many people stop and wonder if perhaps they should take public transportation to avoid the possibility of being killed in a car crash? How many people ensure that their family members never all travel together in the same car, lest they be in a crash?

In the articles published following the recent tragedy in London we read of those who now fear to board another double-decker bus. There are those who won’t take the subway, or fly in an airplane, or travel to popular tourist attractions.

Why? What is the source for this unique fear that the terrorists have put in our hearts?

Terrorists have not succeeded in the mass fatalities they would like to claim are possible. However, they have succeeded in one very important thing. They have accomplished something perhaps even more destructive than killing our bodies. They have managed to erode our sense of security, our hope, and our faith.

Terrorism is not new. And it isn’t going away on its own. But there is something we can, and must, do about it. When we understand the root and essence of terrorism, we also understand how, despite its awful power, we can fight it, each and every one of us, until it is absolutely destroyed.

The negative force of terror has been with us since the dawn of human history. The names and faces and national identities of the terrorists change from place to place and from era to era, but the primordial force that drives them has a single name. It is Amalek.

The Torah teaches us that “G‑d is at war with Amalek for all generations” (Exodus 17:16). “In every generation,” say our sages, “Amalek rises to destroy us, and each time he clothes himself in a different nation” (Me’am Loez, Devarim vol. 3, p. 977).

Amalek doesn’t just kill us—Amalek makes us doubt

Our first encounter was long ago. Since that time, there have been many others. Yet our mission and commandment remains the same:

“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)

Amalek’s danger is not in their ability to kill. Cars kill more. Amalek doesn’t just kill us—Amalek makes us doubt.

Cars do not seek to destroy us. Amalek plans and plots and aims to hurt us, to maim us and to murder us. And every time they do, they make us doubt more.

They make us doubt if we are safe, if we are secure, if we are taken care of. They try to paralyze us and make us think twice before continuing on with our daily lives. They try to show us how vulnerable we are and how nothing is as it appears. They make us doubt the very reality of ourselves, our lives, our G‑d.

As the Torah commentaries point out, the numerical value of the Hebrew word Amalek equals that of the word safek, “doubt.”

How can we defeat Amalek? We have many weapons with which to fight them. And one crucial defense against the debilitating doubt they sow in our souls.

The Torah gives us three commandments in regards to Amalek. First, we must wage war against the seed of Amalek—we must do everything in our power to destroy them. Second, we must not forget what Amalek has done to us. And third, we are commanded to remember.

It would appear that the second and third are virtually the same thing. Why would the Torah trouble to command us both to remember and to not forget?

The Torah is telling us that, on the one hand, we must never forget the suffering that we endured, never forget what Amalek has done—and can do—to us. This is important, so that we never slacken our efforts to do everything in our power to fight them.

But that alone is not enough. We must also remember—actively focus our minds on the source of our power to defeat Amalek. We must remember that we survived. We must remember that we were not destroyed. That we lived and we continued and we flourished.

Amalek is what brings doubt to our minds. It is what seeks to deprive us of our trust in ourselves, in our fellow man, and ultimately in our Creator. When we lose our faith, we lose everything. It is then that Amalek is able to attack us.

Yet we have something infinitely more powerful than doubt: the power of memory. We have the power to remember, to unearth the indestructible faith that resides in the core of our souls: our faith in our G‑d, the G‑d of goodness and life.

It is a sad irony that it often takes tragedy to bring us together. Patriotism flourished following September 11. Now our posters read: “Today we are all Britons.” And we are. We feel for one another as we share in the grief and the pain.

We are commanded to remember

But that is not enough. It is not enough to suffer such tragedy, move on, and continue with day-to-day life. Because after we are struck, we do not continue in the same way. The doubt sets in and eats away, slowly but surely. We continue, but with a little less courage, a little less security, a little less faith.

So we must remember. We must take the strength and love and unity that rose to the surface under such terrible circumstances, and draw on them to build our faith and our trust and our ability to rebuild. We must remember how we united and cared for one another. We must remember the well of faith that burst forth in the midst of tragedy. We must remember that no matter how hard it was, Amalek did not win. They did not succeed. For we survived.

We have the ability and the power to destroy Amalek. There is the Amalek within each and every one of us that seeks to weaken us individually, and there is the Amalek that seeks to universally bring us down. Both must be eradicated. And when they are, it is then that we can be redeemed. For we are taught that in order for Moshiach to come, we must first rid the world of Amalek, of the evil that seeks to destroy us.

There is a famous story which beautifully illustrates the power of faith. The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, was imprisoned in Soviet Russia for his religious leadership. At one point when he was interrogated, those questioning him were bothered by his utter lack of fear. They were used to their terrified victims trembling, weeping and begging for mercy. But this rabbi calmly sat and answered their questions. At one point, hoping to jolt him into submission, the interrogator waved a gun in his face. The Rebbe merely smiled and said, “That toy may instill fear in one who has many gods and one world. I have One G‑d and two worlds. So your toy doesn’t frighten me.”

Today the wounds are still raw. The pain is still real. The grief is still palpable. We cannot change what has happened. But we can help change what will happen. Fearing Amalek will not help. Running away from Amalek will not help. Rather, we must not forget that they are our enemy. We must face them and destroy them. And we are able to. We have the power to.

But only if we remember to remember.