5767 - #20
WAR WITH AMALEK
Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 603, in presenting the command to remember what the nation of Amalek did to our ancestors soon after the Exodus, states that this mitzvah only applies to men, and not to women, as it is for men to wage war.1 He, as such, continues, in Mitzvah 604, to state that the actual command to destroy Amalek also only applies to men and not to women.2 Many commentators are bothered by his words for a variety of reasons. The very idea that women are exempt from a milchemet mitzvah, a required war, is challenged by the statement of the mishna in T.B. Sotah 44b which declares that even a bride must leave her chuppah in response to the call of a milchemet mitzvah. This would seem to indicate that women are obligated in the commands associated with required wars. Indeed Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 425 himself declares that women are obligated in the command to destroy members of the Seven Nations that occupied Israel before Yehoshuas conquest of the land. There would seem to be a difficulty in understanding the very principle that the Chinuch is introducing and then there would also seem to be a difficulty in understanding his application of this very principle. Hagaot Mishneh LMelech to Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 604 is so bothered by this problem that he seems to simply declare that, in response to the exemption of women in regard to Amalek, one must note the Chinuchs own words in regard to the Seven Nations. Indeed, why would there be any distinction in the command to destroy the Seven Nations and the command to destroy Amalek?
This perception, that the principles underlying these two commands must be similar, leads the commentators to ask various other questions on the Chinuch as he presents other distinctions in these two mitzvot. Minchat Chinuch, Mitzvah 425, 603 and 604 further queries why the Chinuch specifically states that the obligation upon an individual to kill members of the Seven Nations is limited by the restriction of sakanot nefashot, danger to life. To the Minchat Chinuch, going to war inherently means placing ones life in danger; a command to go to war inherently must override the limitation of sakanot nefashot. How could the Chinuch, as such, apply this limitation to the command to destroy members of the Seven Nations? An extension of this question is that the Chinuch does not make a similar statement in regard to the command to destroy Amalek. The answer to this question may actually define the major distinction in these two mitzvot that would seem to be at the root of the Chinuchs presentation.
In regard to the mitzvah to destroy Amalek,
the Chinuch writes that this is a command on the tzibbur,
the community. He makes no such declaration in regard to
the Seven Nations. This is most significant for, it would
seem, according to the Chinuch, the base mitzvah,
in regard to Amalek, is for
This idea presents a most interesting insight into
the command to remember and destroy Amalek. If the
command was upon the individual and to be applied,
basically, to individuals, we would perceive the battle
as personal, reflecting our individual and personal
desire to eradicate evil from this world. This is indeed
the case with the Seven Nations, specifically in regard
to idolatry. Our commitment to destroy the Seven Nations
reflects ultimately a personal and individual commitment
that we must make to remove idolatry from this world.
This commitment can be fulfilled through communal war but
it is ultimately a personal and individual commitment.
The case of Amalek is different. It is not a personal and
individual commitment; it is a communal commitment of klal
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail
1 In support of the Chinuchs assertion, reference can be made to T.B. Kiddushin 2b and T.B. Yevamot 65b.
2 The Chinuch must be understood as further inferring that the command to remember is, in fact, inherently tied to the command to destroy and that exemption from the latter yields an exemption in the other. This assertion is, in itself, subject to questioning. See, further, Sdei Chemed, Maarechet Zayin 13.
3 His support for this assertion, from T.B. Sanhedrin 20b, is important for this source only mentions the mitzvah to destroy Amalek and not the mitzvah to destroy the Seven Nations.
4 See, further, Rabbi J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems, Vol. II, Miscellaneous Questions, War and Non-Jews and Rabbi J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems, Vol. III, Preemptive War in Jewish Law.
4 See, further, Rabbi Pinchus Stolper, Purim in a New Light, an adaptation of Rav Yitzchak Hutners Pachad Yitzchak on Purim. This general idea, though, is found in many commentators.
© Nishma, 2007.
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