Question:What was the relationship between Haman and Amaleik?Please see this article from Parshat Zachor 5775 by R Yechezkel Rosenbaum for a fascinating approach.Parshas Tetzaveh – Zachor 5775This week, on the Shabbos preceding Purim, we read “Parshas Zachor.” This passage prescribes the biblical Mitzvah to never forget, and to orally recall, how the people of Amalek attacked us during our departure from Egypt. In addition, it obligates us to “erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens.” This Dvar Torah explores the connection between these Mitzvos and the holiday of Purim.
The question, “Why do we celebrate Purim?” seems easy enough to answer. We rejoice because Haman/Achashveirosh decreed all Jews would die, and G-d miraculously orchestrated our salvation. Haman’s individual character and background would seemingly be trivial to the essence of the Purim story.
But this is not so. Both the Megillah and the Gemara portray the Purim story as a battle against Haman, particularly against Haman the Amalekite.
1. We read about the commandment to remember Amalek specifically on the Shabbos preceding Purim in order to be “makdim zechira la’asiah” -- to read about the Mitzvah to remember Amalek prior to the eradication of Haman, the latter being a descendant of Amalek. This Gemara implies that killing Haman was a fulfilment of the Mitzvah to eradicate Amalek. Sefer HaChinuch (603) goes further writing that “we should really read this passage on Purim itself because it is from the themes of Purim since Haman was from Amalek…” (See also, Ramban to Devarim 25:17)
2. The Gemara (Megillah 7a) notes that though the joy over the Purim salvation was great, it was initially unclear how the Jews were to mark the event. Esther requested that the Sages write the Purim story and include it in Tanach. Esther further requested that they establish the days of Purim as days of joy and reading the Megillah for future generations. At first, the Rabbis had doubts about this because they were unsure whether it was appropriate to add another description of our war against Amalek in Tanach. In the end, they found scriptural allusions that indicate that there is room to write about the battle of Amalek once again. Accordingly, the Sages composed Megillas Esther (the Scroll of Esther) and established Purim as an eternal holiday.
It is clear that the Megillah and the holiday of Purim only came into existence as an expression of the Mitzvah to eradicate Amalek. Absent Haman’s connection to Amalek we have neither the Megillah nor Purim.
3. Each Shabbos we read a Torah portion following a standardized annual cycle. However, on special days, like holidays, fast days, or Rosh Chodesh, we insert a special Torah reading that is "me'ein hame'ora," based on the character of the day. On Purim we read the story of how Amalek attacked us when we left Egypt. (Megillah 30b)
4. The prayers of Purim focus heavily on Haman. In “Shoshanas Yaakov,” we curse Haman. In “Asher Heinei” we mentioned Haman the Amalekite.
Why are we so obsessed with Haman? Why is the Amalek connection so important to the story of Purim? Shouldn’t the storyline primarily be that we were spared from death?
The Torah writes (Shmos 17:14), “I (G-d) will erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens.” The Mechilta (end of Beshalach) comments, “The word ‘memory’ teaches that Haman is included. ‘Amalek’ simply refers to Amalek ((עמלק כמשמעו”
The Mechilta is very difficult to understand. Haman was a descendant of Amalek. Why does the Torah need to add an extra word to teach us that Haman must also be eradicated?
R. Soloveitchik’s Amalek
R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Kol Dodi Dofek, ch. 10) quoted his father, R. Moshe Soloveichik, to explain the following discrepancy.
In Hilchos Melakhim (5:4) Rambam writes that we cannot currently fulfill the commandment to destroy the seven Canaanite nations because “their memory has already been erased,” i.e. they have been mixed in with other nations and we cannot identify them. However, in the very next Halacha, Rambam cites the commandment to destroy Amalek and neglects to mention that their memory has been erased. Why? R. Moshe Soloveitchik explained that the commandment to destroy Amalek does not apply only to biological Amalekites, but to any nation like Amalek who attempts to destroy the entire Jewish nation. Thus Rambam holds that the Mitzvah to destroy Amalek has contemporary relevance despite the fact that we cannot identify the nation of Amalek. [It is said that R. Joseph Soloveitchik applied this to the Nazis.]
As a Halachik (legal) matter this is difficult to accept. All non-Jewish lineage is paternal and is passed on biologically via one’s father. Where do we see that Amalek is different?
There is an incredible Yerushalmi (Yevamos 2:6). While discussing the position of R. Yochanan that non-Jews have no Halachik lineage, the Yerushalmi asks:
“But it says in the Megillah, “Haman, son of Hamedasa the Aggagite” [obviously non-Jews have recognized lineage]? [The Gemara answers] Do you think that Haman was actually Hamedasa’s son?! No, he was called such, because he was a murderer the son of a murderer.”
In other words, Haman was comparable to “Hamedasa” and Amalek in his enmity toward the Jews, but Haman did not biologically descend from Hamedasa, and hence from Amalek. (R. Yerucham Fishel Perlow to Sefer Ha-Mitzvos Le-Rasag understands the Yerushalmi this way).
This Yerushalmi strongly supports R. Soloveitchik’s idea. Though Haman was not a biological descendant of Amalek, our Sages clearly treat Haman as an Amalekite. This can only be understood in light of R. Soloveitchik’s novel thought that anyone who behaves like an Amalekite has the status of one.
But where did the Yerushalmi learn this? Where is the scriptural source that one who behaves like Amalek must be eradicated like an Amalekite?
This is the Mechilta. Comes the Mechilta and says, true, a biological descendent of Amalek is “Amalek” and we must destroy him. But how do I know that a non-biological replica of Amalek must also be exterminated? The Torah adds the word “memory” to say “even Haman” -- even R. Soloveitchik’s Amalekite -- must be eradicated.
Purim & Amalek
Perhaps this explains the significant attention given to Haman/Amalek. It is true that the Jewish population was spared from mass genocide. But the story of Purim transcends any particular national salvation. It is the story of G-d’s commitment, His oath, to eradicate not just Amalek but anyone who will follow in their ways and brazenly tries to kill the entire Jewish nation.
Purim was a true expression of “Milchama laShem ba'Amaleik midor dor;” “an eternal battle of G-d with Amaleik from generation to generation.” It is thus unsurprising that Purim is unique in its as eternal status as a holiday.
“…that it will stand forever; this is the greatness of Purim beyond the other festivals of the Jews, in that they will be nullified and the festival of Purim will remain forever.” (Yalkut Mishlei 9)
“All of the books of the Nevi'im (Prophets) and all of the Ketuvim (Hagiographa) are destined to be nullified in the messianic era, except for the Scroll of Esther; it exists like the five books of the Torah and the laws of the Oral Torah, which are never annulled.” (Rambam, end of Hil. Megillah)
Mark Twain famously wrote in the late 1800’s.
“The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?"
Purim contains the answer. “Milchama laShem ba'Amaleik midor dor” - “an eternal battle of G-d with Amaleik from generation to generation.”
Haman ben Hamdata Ha'Agagi - Masechet SofrimRav Yosef in Masechest Sofrim, chaper 13 Halachah 6 gives the yichus of Haman right back to Esav. But there is no mention of Agag in the family tree.
R. Meir Salasnik, however, pointed out to me that Mikra Sofrim, in footnote Chet, brings a different girsa that includes Agag.