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Purim 5779: Amalek and the Tolerance of Uncertainty

The storyline is familiar to us: Haman, a “wicked, wicked man,” sought to destroy the Jewish people, and through a series of miracles-masquerading-as-happenstance, his plans were foiled. The story thankfully culminates in the antagonist strung up on his own gallows, the Jewish people celebrating in tremendous joy and relief, and children and adults alike running around in costumes and masks – wait, what? Since when do our stories of national resilience end in dress-up parties?? Perhaps we are so accustomed to the Purim story that these integral features of the day pass our careful inspection without much questioning. In order to gain fully from the power and purpose of the holiday, however, we must employ that quintessentially Jewish method of learning, and begin to question. Why is this holiday celebrated through costumes and masks? Why did the miraculous salvation of the Jews need to come about through hidden and at first indiscernible means? In similarly Jewish fashion, we will seek to answer these questions through another question: Who was Haman, and why was he so intent on our annihilation? The Gemara in Chullin 139b:11 asks, “Haman Min HaTorah Minayin?” Where do we find a reference to Haman in the Torah? The answer given is that in the story of the original sin, after Adam and Chava eat from the Eitz HaDaas Tov V’Ra, Hashem approaches Adam and asks, Did you eat from the tree, the very tree from which I commanded you not to eat? The verse in Breishis 3:11 reads, “HaMin Ha’Etz HaZeh…” or, “[did you eat] from this tree?” The Gemara explains that the word “HaMin,” in Hebrew comprised of the letters Hey, Mem, and Nun, is the same word as Haman, also spelled with those three letters. This, says the Gemara, is a direct reference to Haman in the Torah. Rav Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin, quoted by Rabbi Akiva Tatz in his book, Worldmask, expounds on this Gemara and explains why this particular verse serves as a biblical reference to the villain of the Purim story. Haman was a descendant of Amalek, the nation who, as we read this past Shabbos, attacked the Jewish people in the desert immediately after we left Egypt. What bothered Amalek about the Jews that they felt the need to attack us? The verse describes Amalek’s attack as “asher karcha ba’derech,” “they happened upon you on the way,” because Amalek’s mission is to convince us, to convince the world, that all events are circumstantial happenstance, rather than the specific, purposeful, intentional work of a Supreme Being. We see this mission statement in Amalek’s name, as well, for the Hebrew word “Amalek” shares the same numerical value, or Gematria, as the word “Safek,” Hebrew for “doubt.” Amalek’s goal is to infuse us with doubt in God’s role in our lives, both personally and nationally. The exodus from Egypt clashed horribly with this objective, as the miracles of the plagues and the splitting of the sea could not have left less doubt that there is a Creator, and that He continues to exert control over all the happenings in the universe. Furious, Amalek came and attacked the Jewish people, seeking to undermine this undeniable evidence of God’s existence and Omnipotence. Fast forward several hundred generat