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.