I've always understood that the war with Amalek is an ongoing concern (and that the mitzvah to blot out Amalek's memory is ongoing), but I saw some puzzling Rashi today that seems to contradict that. This probably means I'm misunderstanding Rashi, so I'm looking for help.

Tehillim 9 says in part:

4 When my enemies draw backward, they stumble and are destroyed from before You.
5 For You have performed my judgment and my cause; You sat on the throne, O Judge of righteousness.
6 You rebuked nations, You destroyed a wicked man; You erased their name forever and ever.
7 The enemy has been destroyed; swords exist forever, and You have uprooted the cities-their remembrance is lost.
8 But the Lord shall sit forever; He has established His throne for judgment.

Rashi says, on 6:

You rebuked nations: [This alludes to Amalek, described in Num. 24:20 as] “Amalek is the first of the nations.”
You destroyed a wicked man: Esau.
You erased their name: “For I will surely erase the remembrance of Amalek” (Exod. 17:14).

So it sounds like Rashi is saying that God "erased" Amalek at this time (after rebuking them), which is not what I would have thought. (All these verbs are in the past tense.) To further reinforce this, consider Sh'mot 17:16:

16 And he said, For there is a hand on the throne of the Eternal, [that there shall be] a war for the Lord against Amalek from generation to generation.

Rashi says nothing at all here about the war "from generation to generation", which to my perhaps-naive eye sounds an awful lot like "forever". But he does comment there, tying this throne image to the destruction of Amalek in Tehillim 9:

For there is a hand on the throne of the Eternal: Heb. כִּי-יָד עַל כֵּס יָ-הּ. The hand of the Holy One, blessed be He, was raised to swear by His throne, to have a war and [bear] hatred against Amalek for eternity. Now what is the meaning of כֵּס [as opposed to כִּסֵא and also [why is] the Divine Name divided in half? [I.e., why is the Name יָ-הּ used instead of י-ה-ו-ה ?] [The answer is that] the Holy One, blessed be He, swore that His Name will not be complete and His throne will not be complete until the name of Amalek is completely obliterated. And when his name is obliterated, the Divine Name will be complete, and the throne will be complete, as it is said: “The enemy has been destroyed; swords exist forever (לָנֶצַח)” (Ps. 9:7); this [who they are referring to] is Amalek, about whom it is written: “and kept their fury forever (נֶצַח)” (Amos 1:11). "And You have uprooted the cities-their remembrance is lost" (Ps. 9:7) [i.e., Amalek’s obliteration]. What does it say afterwards? “And the Lord (וַיהוה) shall sit forever” (Ps. 9:8); thus [after Amalek is obliterated] the Name is complete. "He has established His throne (כִּסְאוֹ) for judgment" (Ps. 9:8). Thus the throne is complete [i.e., thus the throne, here spelled with an “aleph,” is now complete]. — [from Midrash Tanchuma, end of Ki Theitzei]

So my question is: what's Rashi really saying here? Is he really saying that God obliterated Amalek at the time of the psalm? If so, how does he reconcile that with (a) the mitzvah for us to wipe out Amalek's memory and (b) the common understanding that Haman, centuries later, was an Amalekite (to say nothing of others for whom similar claims have been made throughout the centuries)?


3 Answers 3


Rashi notes to verse 1 that he interprets this psalm as about Amalek in the future:

And I say: "למנצח עלמות לבן", this song is about the future, when the youth and earliness of Israel will be brightened, their righteousness revealed, and their redemption brought, when Esav and his progeny are erased, as per our Torah.

It is not uncommon to find, in Psalms, past-tense sentences that the commentaries say refer to the future.


While I haven't seen it spelled out per say, presumably because the mitzvah still has a very real relevance, it seems clear from the sources that while it wasn't preformed in the "lechatchila"/optimal manner the mitzvah in its primary manifestation was fulfilled by Shaul (or more correctly Shmuel):

From the Gemara in Sanhedrin(20b, see also Rashi) we see the mitzvah of cutting off Amelek was a prerequisite for the building of the Temple:

סנהדרין כ:ב תניא רבי יוסי אומר שלש מצות נצטוו ישראל בכניסתן לארץ להעמיד להם מלך ולהכרית זרעו של עמלק ולבנות להם בית הבחירה ואיני יודע איזה מהן תחילה כשהוא אומר כי יד על כס יה מלחמה לה' בעמלק הוי אומר להעמיד להם מלך תחילה ואין כסא אלא מלך שנאמר וישב שלמה על כסא ה' למלך ועדיין איני יודע אם לבנות להם בית הבחירה תחלה או להכרית זרעו של עמלק תחילה כשהוא אומר והניח לכם מכל אויביכם וגו' והיה המקום אשר יבחר ה' וגו' הוי אומר להכרית זרעו של עמלק תחילה וכן בדוד הוא אומר ויהי כי ישב המלך דוד בביתו וה' הניח לו מסביב וכתיב ויאמר המלך אל נתן הנביא ראה נא אנכי יושב בבית ארזים וגו'

“It has been taught: R. Jose said: Three commandments were given to Israel when they entered the land; [i] to appoint a king; [ii] to cut off the seed of Amalek; [iii] and to build themselves the chosen house and I do not know which of them has priority. But, when it is said: The hand upon the throne of the Lord, the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation ,(Exodus 17:16) we must infer that they had first to set up a king, for ‘throne’ implies a king, as it is written, Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king (1 Chron. 29:23). Yet I still do not know which [of the other two] comes first, the building of the chosen Temple or the cutting off of the seed of Amalek. Hence when it is written, And when He giveth you rest from all your enemies round about etc., and then, Then it shall come to pass that the place which the Lord your God shall choose, (Deut. 12:10) it is to be inferred that the extermination of Amalek is first. And so it is written of David, And it came to pass when the king dwelt in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies round about, and the passage continues; that the king said unto Nathan the Prophet: See now, I dwell in a house of cedars etc. [Soncino]

Which is brought down as halachah in the Mishneh Torah:

משנה תורה: הלכות מלכים ומלחמותיהם א:ב מנוי מלך קדם למלחמת עמלק, שנאמר: "אתי שלח ה' למשחך למלך עתה לך והכיתה את עמלק". והכרתת זרע עמלק קודמת לבנין הבית, שנאמר: "ויהי כי ישב המלך בביתו וה' הניח לו מסביב מכל איביו. ויאמר אל נתן הנביא, אנכי יושב בבית ארזים וגו'"

The appointment of a king should precede the war against Amalek. [This is evident from Samuel’s charge to King Saul] (I Samuel 15:1-3): “God sent me to anoint you as king . . . Now, go and smite Amalek.” Amalek’s seed should be annihilated before the construction of the Temple, as [II Samuel 7:1-2] states: “And it came to pass, when the king dwelled in his palace, and God gave him peace from all enemies who surrounded him, the king said to Nathan, the prophet: Look! I am dwelling in a house of cedar, . . . [but the ark of God dwells within curtains]. [Moznaim]

This seems consistent with the peshuto shel mikra (plain meaning) of 1 Samuel 15 where it is related that King Saul destroyed the nation of Amalek, only sparing King Agag and animals (although he was not supposed to spare either). King Agag, however, was executed by Shmuel after he rebuked Saul for his disobedience. That this commandment found its historical fulfillment doesn't detract from its status as a commandment. Yet it seems to me that although Amalek was destroyed in a literal sense, a prerequisite for building the Temple as we have seen, by failing to do so as commanded Saul allowed the ["disembodied"] spirit of Amalek to live on. It is in this sense that we find the primary significance of Haman's descent from Amalek regardless of how literal we should take the midrashim about Agag siring offspring during his brief period in custody. Haman is called Agagi, not Amalaki, he carries on the "spirit" and "mission" of Amalek not as Amalek strictly defined but because the Bnei Yisrael failed to preform the mitzvah as commanded even though the end result was equivalent.

  • Why does it not detract from its status as a commandment? Rambam's third Shoresh is not to count Mitzvot which don't apply for eternity.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 15:18
  • @DoubleAA--Are you saying that it is not possible to succeed in destroying Amalek because at what ever point that is accomplished your reasoning would apply?
    – Yirmeyahu
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 15:25
  • Either: a) it is not one of the 613 Mitzvot but rather a temporary mitzva like various one time commands in the desert. b) it is only possible to fully destroy them in some qualitatively different future era (possibly Yemot HaMashiach) AND such a delay qualifies as a Mitzva which applies LeDorot and can be counted according to Rambam. c) it is impossible to complete the task but that shouldn't keep us from trying.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 15:35
  • 1
    @DoubleAA--No. This mitzvah is not a "temporary" one because it is not tied to any specific time period. The time restrictions are defined in a "temporary mitzvos", they are incidental to the mitzvos fulfillment in mitzvos such as destroying Amalek or the Canaanites.
    – Yirmeyahu
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 16:02
  • What is the defined time period for the command to lean on the head of the blasphemer before stoning him? Do you have a source that this is the meaning of לדורות? How then do you understand the point of the mitzva to kill the Amalekites if none of them exist or will ever exist again?
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 17:54

Towards the end of Shmuel Aleph, פרק ל, the Navi describes a battel that took place between Dovid, who was not yet King, and Amalek. Amalek raids Dovid's camp and takes their women and children. Dovid chases after them and ends up killing them all, except 400 young Amalekite men who escape:

וַיַּכֵּם דָּוִד מֵהַנֶּשֶׁף וְעַד־הָעֶרֶב לְמָחֳרָתָם וְלֹא־נִמְלַט מֵהֶם אִישׁ כִּי אִם־אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת אִישׁ־נַעַר אֲשֶׁר־רָכְבוּ עַל־הַגְּמַלִּים וַיָּנֻסוּ "And Dovid struck them from dawn until the evening of the next day. No man survived except 400 young men who rode away on camels and escaped."

This was nearly the end of Amalek. And they were finally wiped out as a nation in the days of Chizkiyahu. As it states in Divrei Hayamim Aleph 4:42-43, 500 men from Shimon travelled to Har Seir and destroyed the last remaining Amalekites.

ויכו את־שארית הפלטה לעמלק וישבו שם עד היום הזה "And they struck the remaining surving Amalekites and they (the bnei Shimon) dwelled there until this day."

I think it is likely that Tehilim 9 (according to Rashi) is referring to Dovid's defeat of Amalek. From that point onward Amalek was finished as a nation and that is what Dovid is celebrating, the destruction of the ראשית גוים.

Then in the days of Chizkiyahu, Amalek ceased to even be a recognizable group. But this doesn't mean that there weren't individual Amalekites that escaped before their destruction. Haman was a descendant of one of those Amalekites.

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