Parashat Ki Tetzei – Revenge Against Amalek or Drive A Mercedes? Our Choice.

By: Dr. Joel Roffman

In the early 1950s, the new State of Israel faced a difficult choice. Should it open diplomatic relations with Germany? If not, would Israel avoid international organizations that accepted Germany’s membership? What if Israel hosted international meetings? Would they exclude Germany? Writer Ernest Renan said, “Whoever wishes to make history is obligated to forget history. Policy is not a matter of emotion.”

On December 30, 1951, the government of Israel decided to enter into negotiations for restitution. The Israelis don’t make big decisions quietly. You can just imagine the rancor and emotions regarding negotiating with the German government. So many emotions! ”Remember what Amalek did to you!” versus the diplomatic and financial needs of the nascent state. David ben Gurion and the Mapai Party vs. Menachem Begin and Herut.

Begin quoted the Bible. David ben Gurion responded, “If the Amalek nation were still in existence and had universities, the Jews would be studying at them. ‘Blot out the remembrance of Amalek’ is a meaningless verse for us.” After a heated debate within the Central Committee, the issue was presented to the Knesset. Begin spoke with great emotion. “Any hands raised in favor of negotiations with Germany would be treasonous hands.” The Labor party responded, “Let not the murderers of our nation also be its heirs” (meaning of property and wealth).

Begin: “Twelve million Germans served in the Nazi army. Every German is a Nazi who has murdered our families. Adenauer (Konrad, Prime Minister) is a murderer. All his assistants are murderers.” Huge demonstrations ensued. For many Israelis, their country’s needs conflicted with their consciences. Attacks were heartfelt, emotional, and personal. In the end, Israel established relations with Germany and the resolution to negotiate with Germany for restitution passed the Knesset.

In today’s parashah, the Torah commands us not to despise an Egyptian, despite the fact that they enslaved us, because we were once sojourners in their land. On the other hand, the Torah also commands us to destroy and blot out, not only the tribe of Amalek, but also the very memory of their existence (a paradoxical commandment to say the least)! As you can imagine, much has been written about the difference between Egypt and Amalek, and the circumstances under which we should “forgive and forget” and those that demand we continue in our quest to destroy a long-ago enemy.

I don’t want to get into all the Biblical arguments and all the back-and-forth that various writers have gone through to justify their respective decisions. I do, however, want to broaden this out into the real world. Our real world. Today’s world. Our response to an act against us can range from a simple “forgive and forget,” to seeking revenge and never forgetting the perceived transgression, and all shades in-between. I would like to make a pitch for leaning toward the former – not necessarily forgetting, but at least letting go of anger and not carrying a grudge indefinitely.

Carrying a grudge can have profound negative effects on one’s mental and physical health. The act of harboring resentment and holding onto anger towards someone or something can be emotionally draining and detrimental to one’s overall well-being.

This harmful and fruitless remembering can lead to increased stress. When we hold onto negative feelings, our bodies respond by releasing stress hormones which, when elevated over extended periods, can have detrimental effects on our physical and mental health. Research has linked chronic stress to an array of health problems, including a weakened immune response, high blood pressure, and increased risk of mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.

Moreover, carrying a grudge can hinder the ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. The negative emotions associated with holding onto resentment can create walls of bitterness and hostility, making it difficult to trust and connect with others. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and contribute to an individual’s declining mental health. I used to tell my daughter Leah (probably when she was in elementary or middle school; once she was in high school, I couldn’t tell her much of anything! How many identify with that?)…Anyway, I used to tell her that when all you see are warts, everyone is ugly.

In addition to the psychological impact, vowing vengeance against the “Amalekites” in our lives can also manifest in physical symptoms. Prolonged anger and resentment have been associated with headaches, sleep disorders, digestive issues, and other negative physical reactions. In some cases, people experience fatigue and decreased energy levels; others find their mood darkens. Furthermore, the negative emotions associated with an ongoing grudge can impair our decision-making capacity and hinder our ability to get things done.

It is important to recognize the harmful effects of carrying a grudge and to find healthy ways to manage and release these negative emotions. Engaging in forgiveness, or at least in letting things go, whether it be through communication, self-reflection, or even seeking professional help, can be an effective means of promoting emotional healing. By releasing the burden of resentment, individuals can experience improved mental well-being, reduced stress levels, and enhanced overall health.

The drive we feel to “remember Amalek” takes a toll on both mental and physical health and hinder personal growth and relationships. It is important to prioritize forgiveness and find healthy coping mechanisms to release these negative emotions.

The memory of the Holocaust is never far from the collective consciousness of Israelis. My impression is that it impacts virtually all their important decisions, even when it adversely affects their decision-making. Even so, many Israelis now drive Mercedes Benz vehicles – made in Germany. They have not forgotten the Holocaust or forgiven it; but they have acknowledged that the current generation of Germans are not responsible for it. As with our time in Egypt, we were sojourners in Germany and flourished there for generations before Hitler came to power with his agenda of exterminating all Jews.

For us, living in 21st century America, not every disagreement or transgression that we perceive is equivalent to that of Amalek or the Nazis. Let us remember that as well.

Shabbat Shalom.