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National Teshuva

By: Michael Unterberg

The commandment to destroy Amalek, which appears at the end of the parsha, seems to be fairly straightforward. After recounting the basic incident which occurred on the way between Egypt and Mount Sinai, the Torah states:

֡ ֣ ֠ ֨֜ ֗ ֙֙ ֣ ֠ ֨ ֤ ֙ ֔ ֙ ֣ ֔ ֖ ֑ ֖ ()

Therefore, when the LORD your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Devarim 25:19)

When we look back at the actual incident when it occurred, we notice that something seems strange. Hashem clearly stated that He would take care of all the ‘blotting’:

֨ ֗ ֨ ֤ ֙ ֔ ֖ ֣ ֑ ֤ ֙ ֣ ֔ ֖

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Inscribe this in a document as a reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven!” (Shmot 17:14)

So what happened? In Shmot, Hashem says that He will destroy Amalek, but in Devarim, our nation is commanded to take care of it. Did Hashem just decide along the way to shirk his commitment and stick us with it? Obviously, this can’t be the case.

In Devarim, Hashem is explaining how He will destroy Amalek. That is, by telling us to do it. Our nation is the instrument on Earth that will make His will into reality by accepting it as commandments. We have that daunting responsibility and sublime privilege as the Jewish people.

In Elul and the Yamim Noraim, we focus on teshuva. Usually, this is framed as personal improvement to grow closer to G-d. But repentance also occurs on a national level. Rav Kook, who so often focused on the national aspects of the Torah, discussed this in Orot HaTeshuva.  “The summit of the nation’s soul is the general purpose to which it strives... the idea of teshuva is embedded in this heightened, secret place.” (Orot HaTeshuva 4:6)

For two thousand years we were pushed off the stage of history, and functioned as religious communities. We are now at the beginning of a national renaissance, which is an expression of our people’s teshuva.

Zionism is the claim that the Jews must control their own destiny. Religious Zionism is the belief that doing so fulfills prophecy and establishes Hashem’s will on Earth. This is both daunting responsibility and sublime privilege.

May we achieve success in our personal, communal and national teshuva.


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