Our Parsha ends with one of the best-known parshiot in the Torah, the obligation to remember what Amalek did to Bnei Yisrael on their journey from Egypt to the land of Israel. This obligation leads to the command to Bnei Yisrael to wipe out Amalek upon consolidating control of Eretz Yisrael. The Rambam codifies this command in Hilchot Melachim (5:5). While the story was previously told in Sefer Shemot (17:8-16), there are significant differences between the two parshiot. In her book, Iyunim B’Sefer Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz identifies two major differences in emphasis. In Sefer Shemot the story focuses on the historical outline of what happened. Amalek came and attacked, the attack is rebuffed, Hashem commands Moshe to instruct Yehoshua to wipe out Amalek. Missing is any analysis of the motives of the attack or of the nature of Amalek. These details are left for our Parsha. It is here that we read of Amalek’s cruelty and of Bnai Yisrael’s weakness.Additionally, in Sefer Shemot, the fact that it is Hashem’s command to wipe out Amalek is stressed, while in Sefer Devarim the stress is on Am Yisrael’s obligation to fulfill this command. Nechama suggests that these two differences are in fact linked. In Sefer Shemot, with Moshe speaking as a historian, there is no need to explain or justify Hashem’s command to wipe out Amalek. In Sefer Devarim Moshe is preparing Bnei Yisrael both to enter Eretz Yisrael and to prepare them for a change in leadership. Hence, his focus is on the “human angle”. By stressing the cruelty and immorality of Amalek, he also lays the moral foundation for what might otherwise seem to be an overly harsh punishment.
The retelling of the story in our Parsha also provides an opportunity to contrast the nature of Amalek, which must be wiped out, with the ideal nature of Am Yisrael. This contrast is provided by the juxtaposition of the story of Amalek with the prohibition of using, or even owning imprecise weights and measures (25:13-16) in Sefer Devarim and the juxtaposition with the story of Mei Meriva and the question of Am Yisrael’s belief in Hashem that it engenders in Sefer Shemot (perek 17).
Rashi in Devarim, quoting the Midrash, quotes two passukim in Mishlei (11:1-2) that suggest that cheating in business will provoke your enemies to attack you. “Meoznai mirmah toavat Hashem v’even shlaima rizono”- Weights (that) cheat are an abomination to Hashem, and a complete weight is His desire, “Ba zadon v’yavo kalon vet tznuim chochma”- With pride comes shame, but (with) modesty (comes) wisdom. The Torah, Rashi suggests, is putting a punctuation mark on the prohibition of imprecise weights and measures, using Amalek as the result of the failure to adhere to this prohibition.
On the face of things, Rashi is difficult to understand. Is he suggesting that Amalek attacked Bnei Yisrael because they engaged in unscrupulous business practices while in the desert? Also, how exactly do the references in Mishlei connect to enemies in general and Amalek in particular?
The Kli Yakar explains the linkage by analyzing the Torah’s description of the prohibition of false weights and measures. The passuk (13) tells us that you should not have in your pocket different weights, one large and one small. Now clearly this cannot mean that it is prohibited for a person to have different sized weights. Rashi explains that the weights cannot contradict each other, i.e. that when buying a person uses a weight which shows a larger volume and when reselling shows a smaller volume. The Kli Yakar explains that the larger weight is in fact accurate, and the smaller one is inaccurate. By using the accurate weight in most situations, and the inaccurate one only occasionally, the unscrupulous merchant protects himself from detection. Even in those situations where his measure is called into question, he can present a whole list of satisfied customers who will vouch for his honesty, allowing him to claim that the mistake was on the part of the customer. In this way he cheats not only those who were shortchanged, but the court as well. Thus, the larger weight, though accurate, is used as a tool for deceit. This also explains why the passuk in Mishlei refers to false weights as meoznai mirmah (deceitful weights) and not meoznai sheker (false weights). The weights are not necessarily false, but they are used in a deceitful fashion.
The essential nature of such people is to present themselves as fine, upstanding citizens, even as they cheat and steal. It is such people that Hashem looks to expose through their enemies. A person who cheats in business is essentially proclaiming his lack of belief in Hashem, and, suggests the Kli Yakar, we can assume that those same people who the Torah describes in Sefer Shemot as lacking in belief in Hashem will also be unscrupulous. These are precisely the people who fell prey to Amalek. “Lo Yarei Elokim”, the passuk tells us. We know that the word Elokim can refer to either Hashem or to judges. Thus, the people who do not fear Hashem or the justice system are both exposed to, and exposed by, Amalek’s attack. Rav Naftali Tzvi Berlin, the Netziv, arrives at a similar conclusion through an analysis of the Gemara in Baba Batra that conducts an extensive discussion of the prohibition of false weights and measures. The Gemara there (88b) somewhat surprisingly suggests that the punishment for using false measures is greater than the punishment for sexual impropriety. The Netziv explains that the three cardinal sins of sexual impropriety, murder and idol worship are in fact cardinal sins because the represent three causes of sin. Sin is caused by lack of faith (idol worship), inability to withstand temptation (sexual impropriety) or lack of self-control (murder). Of these three, the most severe is lack of faith. Cheating in business represents a lack of faith, as the perpetrator does not fear Hashem’s ultimate punishment. Therefore the Gemara views using inaccurate weights as a sin greater than sexual impropriety. Amalek comes and attacks when Bnei Yisrael exhibit a lack of faith.
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch connects between the issue of Amalek and the prohibition of false weights without referring to Rashi. According to Rav Hirsch, honesty in business is representative of the moral standard that Bnei Yisrael must constantly bring to bear in order to be worthy its mission as Am Hashem in Eretz Yisrael. This is why we are told that keeping honest weights will allow for a long life in our land (15, see also the Ibn Ezra on that passuk). Amalek represents the exact opposite, sovereignty based not on justice or moral standing but on strength, on power and on opportunism. This says Rav Hirsch is the meaning of the command “Lo Tiskach”- Do not forget. Do not forget not only what Amalek did but also why they did it and what they stand for. If you are ever tempted to use your strength improperly, if you are ever tempted down the path of Amalek, Lo Tishkach. In the words of Rav Hirsch, keep your humaneness and respect for that which is right…That is where the future lies. Zachor, lo tishkach.