Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, how they surprised you on the road and cut off all the weak people at your rear, when you were parched and weary [from the journey], and they did not fear [retribution from] G‑d [for hurting you].

-- Devarim 25:17

Classic Questions

How often does one have to remember "what Amalek did to you"? (v. 17)

Rambam: It is a positive command to constantly remember their evil deeds and ambush, to arouse hatred for them, as the verse states, "Remember what Amalek did to you" (v.17). According to Oral Tradition we are taught: "'Remember'—with your mouths; 'Do not forget' (v. 19)—in your hearts," for it is forbidden to forget the hatred we have for them (Laws of Kings 5:5).

Sefer Hachinuch: It is sufficient for us to remember the matter once a year, or once in two or three years... If a person never mentioned it with his mouth once in his entire life, then he has trans­gressed (Mitzvah 603).

Minchas Chinuch: Thus, according to the Sefer Hachinuch, it appears that mentioning what Amalek did once in a lifetime suffices.

Shaloh: It is a great mitzvah to say this passage (v. 17-19) every day to fulfill the mitzvah to "remember" (Torah Shebiksav, Parshas Ki Seitzei).

The Rebbe's Teachings

The Obligation to Remember Amalek (v. 17)

We find a range of opinions concerning how often the mitzvah of remembering Amalek needs to be carried out. Sefer Hachinuch argues that once a year or even once in a lifetime would suffice. Shaloh recommends the verbal remembering of Amalek daily, and Rambam states that the mitzvah is incumbent "constantly."

In order to minimize the dispute, the following could be argued:

  1. Even according to Sefer Hachinuch, if one chooses to remember Amalek verbally on a daily basis, one would perform a mitzvah daily.

  2. Furthermore, it could be argued that, according to all opinions, whenever one remembers Amalek, it has the status of a halachically "ongo­­ing activity"1 until the next occasion that one performs this mitzvah.

However, this seems to present us with a problem when we compare the mitzvah of remembering Amalek (v. 17) with the mitzvah of erasing any reminder of Amalek. In the present age, it is not possible to perform the mitzvah of erasing any reminder of Amalek because:

  1. This mitzvah is only incumbent when all the Jewish people are living in the Land of Israel, in a state of peace. As the verse states explicitly: "When G‑d, your G‑d, gives you relief from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which G‑d, your G‑d, is giving to you...you must erase any reminder of Amalek" (v. 19).

  2. Even if this were to be the case, the precise identity of the various nations (including Amalek) has become confused due to intermixing. So it is impossible to eradicate Amalek nowadays, since it cannot be determined which people are actually descendants of the original nation of Amalek.

This begs the question: Rambam writes that the reason we are required to "remember what Amalek did" is "to verbally arouse people to fight them," i.e., in order to perform the mitzvah of eradicating Amalek. But if we are no longer able to carry out the mitzvah of "eradicating," why is the mitzvah of "remembering" still required (especially in light of the above explanation that remembering is required constantly)?

Of course, we could argue that since we impatiently await the arrival of Mashiach every day, there is a need to prepare for the elimination of Amalek, which may become relevant at any moment. But surely, though, there must be some significance to this mitzvah today, even before the coming of Mashiach?

The Explanation

The mitzvah of remembering Amalek clearly has a broader scope than being just a direct preparation for the war to eradicate Amalek, since:

  1. If "remembering" was required merely in order to "verbally arouse people to fight them," the two processes of "remembering" and "eradicating" would constitute one single mitzvah. As we find in the case of the other nations which the Jewish people are obligated to eradicate (the seven nations of Cana'an—see 20:16 above), that one single mitzvah includes both the "arousal" to fight and the fighting itself.

  2. While the requirement of eradicating Amalek is a mitzvah incumbent on the community as a whole, the mitzvah of remembering the deeds of Amalek is an obligation that rests on the individual. This indicates that remembering Amalek has a broad implication for all Jewish people, beyond the specific war effort to eradicate Amalek.

The reason why the mitzvah of remembering Amalek is of such universal significance is related to the specific threat which Amalek poses to the Jewish people:

We are commanded to totally obliterate any reminder of Amalek because they are a nation whose outlook is antithetical to the practice of Judaism. Of course, the Torah identifies numerous nations that harbored heretical views, but the specific threat of Amalekite ideology is considered to be far more dangerous, because it is a subtle threat which does not appear, at first glance, to be true heresy. For this reason, the Torah fears that even a person who is a genuine believer in all the principles of our faith, and who meticulously observes all the mitzvos, may nevertheless be corrupted by the ideology of Amalek.

Therefore, the Torah requires a greater level of vigilance to ensure that Amalek does not influence us. We must constantly be aware of and "remember" the threat posed by the Amalekite ideology, and eliminate any member of the nation which attempts to perpetuate it.

What, precisely, is the subtle evil of Amalek which is so dangerous?

Our Sages explained: "He knows his Master, and yet intentionally rebels against Him." In other words, we are not speaking here of a heretical belief which denies the existence of G‑d (for Amalek "knows his Master"). If Amalek simply denied the existence of G‑d, or advocated idol-worship, any believing Jew would find the matter easy to reject. It is precisely because the Amalekite philosophy recognizes the existence of G‑d ("knows his Master") that it poses a danger for a Jewish person, who may easily become sympathetic to this outlook, eventually leading him to rebel against G‑d, Heaven forbid.

Of course, this is unlikely to happen overnight, for Amalek does not attack by immediately telling a Jew to stop observing the mitzvos. The threat of Amalek lies in more subtle attempts to disconnect a person's knowledge from his practical observance. For example, Amalek might initially tell a person not to become excited about observing the mitzvos,2 or to believe in G‑d in general, but not with absolute certainty3 Thus, the fact that this voice is generally condoning the observance of mitzvos and belief in G‑d could fool a person into thinking that it is kosher. In truth, however, such thoughts represent one of the biggest threats that an observant Jew might face.

Based on the above, we can understand why there are two separate mitzvos to "remember" and "eliminate" Amalek:

Due to its seemingly acceptable front, extra vigilance is required to ensure that a person does not sympathize with the Amalekite ideology in any way whatsoever. Thus, while in the case of other evil nations, the mitzvah to destroy them logically includes the requirement to arouse hatred for them, in the case of Amalek, the Torah deems it necessary to make a special issue about arousing hatred for them, by designating this task as a separate mitzvah.

The practical offshoot of this is that even though the command to "remember" Amalek only arose out of a need to eliminate them, nevertheless, even in a time when it is not possible to eliminate the actual nation of Amalek (such as in the present age), it still remains relevant to eliminate any sympathy for their ideology—and this is achieved today by the mitzvah of "remembering" Amalek.4

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 19, p. 221; vol. 21, p. 191ff.)