The commandment to remember what Amalek, the symbol of evil in the world, did to the Jewish people, is in force at all times. Amalek represents the refusal to allow G‑dliness to penetrate into the world, the doubts and uncertainties which prevent a Jew from coming closer to G‑d. The war against Amalek is won through total submission to the yoke of heaven.

The Jewish people, after witnessing the miracles wrought by G‑d in Egypt and at the splitting of the sea, journeyed through the desert to receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Along the way they were attacked by Amalek, descendants of Esav. Torah records the fight and the successful outcome for the Jews.1

Mitzvah to remember Amalek’s evil is eternal

The war with Amalek was not a one-time affair, to be forgotten as soon as it was over. The Jewish people are commanded by G‑d to always remember Amalek’s evil actions, and to destroy his memory utterly. Torah is most explicit:2 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt; how he met you on the way, and cut down all the weak who struggled behind you, when you were weary and exhausted; and he did not fear G‑d. Therefore, when the L‑rd your G‑d will relieve you of all your enemies around you, in the land which the L‑rd your G‑d gives you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

The mitzvah to destroy Amalek depends on two conditions: The Jewish people must be settled in Eretz Yisroel, and a king must be appointed.3 Throughout Jewish history, the times when these conditions would have been met were few indeed.4

However, the mitzvah to “Remember what Amalek did to not forget,” applies at all5 times.6 It is fulfilled once a year by reading7 the above section in the Torah detailing the command to remember. It is the only reading in the Torah which is considered a Scriptural mitzvah.8 The Shabbos on which this section is read is thus termed Shabbos Parshas Zachor, “Zachor meaning “Remember.”

Parshas Zachor is always read on the Shabbos before Purim, for the principal figures in the miracle of Purim are associated with the battle against Amalek. The first war to wipe out Amalek was waged by King Shaul,9 who, because of a misplaced sense of mercy, spared the life of Agag, king of Amalek.10 Agag lived to produce a son, a descendant of whom was the Haman who tried to annihilate Jewry.11 Mordechai and Esther, through whom deliverance came, were descendants of Shaul. The section in the Torah which records the mitzvah to never forget Amalek’s treachery is therefore always read on the Shabbos before Purim.

Amalek — Evil Incarcate

The Divine imperative to utterly blot out Amalek indicates that Amalek’s treacherous attack was not just a mere incident, one of many misfortunes in the annals of Jewish suffering. Amalek is evil incarnate, the antithesis of G‑dliness and holiness. While descendants of Amalek exist, evil exists. G‑d, our Sages say,12 has sworn that “His Name is not complete nor His throne is complete until the name of Amalek shall be utterly obliterated.”

What did Amalek do that warranted such eternal enmity, that “G‑d shall be at war with Amalek for all generations?”13

“Cooling off” the Jews

The Torah describes Amalek’s attack as taking place “on the way as you came out of Egypt...when he met you on the way and cut down all the weak who struggled behind you.”14 “He met you” in the holy tongue is “korcha,” which derives from the root “kar,” meaning “cool.” Amalek’s real sin was that “he cooled you off on the way.”

G‑d had shown tremendous miracles in Egypt and at the splitting of the sea. The surrounding nations were in awe and fear of the Jews, whose G‑d had thus demonstrated His overwhelming love and protection of them.

Then came Amalek. In the words of Rashi:15 “Amalek cooled you off and made you lukewarm after your boiling heat. All the nations feared to engage in battle with you, but he came and made a start — and thereby showed the way to others. It may be likened to a boiling bath into which no creature is able to descend. Then came a reprobate who sprang into it; even though he was burned, he cooled it off for others.”

No nation thought to interfere with the children of Israel after the great miracles vouchsafed them. Amalek alone dared. Although he was severely defeated he had made the first crack in Israel’s armor. From then on, other nations would not be so hesitant. Amalek had cooled off the fiery flame of the Jews in the eyes of the nations.

That is why Amalek is so scorned, why he has earned the enmity of G‑d and His people for all generations. He is the source of all subsequent troubles for the Jews, and the evil he perpetrated then lingers on — until the very existence and name of Amalek will be obliterated from the face of the earth.

Torah must affect world

Amalek’s attack not only affected the way the gentile nations regarded the Jewish nation, but also the Jews themselves. The ultimate purpose of the redemption from Egypt was the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, as written, “When you take this people out of Egypt, you shall serve Me on this mountain.”16 The liberation from slavery in Egypt was in the merit of this future service.17

Egypt was the most spiritually debased of nations.18 The giving of the Torah was the ultimate in spiritual perfection. The period between the exodus and the giving of the Torah was a process of spiritual elevation for the Jews, culminating in the receiving of the Torah. The liberation from Egypt and its accompanying wonders had raised the Jews to a fever-pitch of ecstasy and longing for G‑d and His Torah. It was in the midst of this process when Amalek attacked.

Amalek did not wish
to prevent the study of Torah per se

The Torah existed before it was given to the Jews at Mt. Sinai. Avraham, our Sages say,19 studied Torah and performed mitzvos. Moreover, he transmitted the Torah to Yitzchok, who in turn gave it to Yaakov, who on his part communicated its precepts to his children and thus to the Jews who left Egypt.20

But there is a cardinal difference between the Torah before and after it was given on Mt. Sinai. The Torah and mitzvos beforehand were purely spiritual, having no effect on this material, physical world. After the Torah was given, when “G‑d descended on Mt. Sinai,”21 the Torah could have an effect on the world: physical things could now be sanctified, elevated.22

This is what Amalek hated. In spiritual terms, Amalek represents the opposition to allowing the Torah to permeate and affect one’s emotions and actions.23 The hostility is not so much to knowledge of G‑d; it is to allowing that knowledge to be translated into concrete terms — dedicating one’s thoughts, speech and deed totally to G‑d.

Amalek’s attitude was summed up by our Rabbis:24 “He knows his Creator and willfully rebels against Him.” Know G‑d — yes; serve G‑d — no! cries out Amalek in all his evil hatred.

Amalek, then, represents the chasm between knowledge of G‑d and acceptance of His yoke. Every Jew is susceptible, subtly at least, to such a rebellion against G‑d. Amalek is “the head of nations.” The seven nations of the land of Canaan correspond to the seven base emotional attributes of the soul.25 Amalek attempts to block the knowledge of G‑d from influencing those attributes to strive to come close to G‑d.

Acceptance of Yoke of Heaven

This is why G‑d says neither His Name nor His throne will be whole until Amalek is entirely obliterated. Torah and mitzvos elevate the world and reveal the G‑dliness that lies beneath the veils of nature. Amalek symbolizes the refusal to allow G‑dliness to penetrate and sanctify the world. Until Amalek is destroyed — until every Jew’s thought, speech and deed are totally sanctified — G‑d remains concealed: His Name is not whole and His throne is not whole.

How does one achieve the spiritual destruction of Amalek? Amalek in Hebrew numerology is two hundred and forty, which equals the numerical value of sofek, meaning doubt. Amalek does not allow the knowledge of G‑d to be translated into deed. He casts doubts about the idea of G‑dliness permeating this physical world. He “cools off” a Jew from Torah and G‑d.

The answer to Amalek is to accept the yoke of heaven wholeheartedly, without reservations. With this comes the realization that the ultimate purpose of the entire creation is to make this world a dwelling place for G‑d.

The inability to accept the yoke of heaven without reservation upset the first attempt to wipe out Amalek. G‑d had instructed Shaul, the first king of Israel, to destroy everything pertaining to Amalek, their cattle as well. But Shaul thought it better to save the best of the cattle to use as sacrifices to G‑d; and in addition, had mercy on Agag, the king of Amalek. Shmuel, the prophet of G‑d, rebuked Shaul saying:26 “Has the L‑rd as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the L‑rd? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.”

Shaul had placed reason over unquestioning acceptance of G‑d’s will, and Agag lived to produce a son. The result was that the Jews in Mordechai’s time were menaced by Haman. Mordechai and Esther, descendants of Shaul, caused Haman’s plans to become void through calling on Jews to exhibit mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice27 — to re-accept upon themselves the yoke of heaven lacking in the times of Shaul.

The fight against Amalek and all he represents continues. When Jews fulfill the mitzvah of obliterating the spiritual Amalek, the world comes that much closer to the time when G‑dliness will be manifest to all mankind. Our service now hastens the coming of our righteous Moshiach, King of Israel, when we will be able to fulfill the mitzvah of obliterating Amalek literally.28 Then the third, eternal Beis HaMikdosh will be built, and G‑d’s Name and throne will be whole.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, pp. 913-915; Vol. XXII, pp. 190-196