The Connection Between Amalek and Yitro
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
Parshat Beshalach ends with the Jewish people being brutally attacked by the nation of Amalek while traveling peacefully in the wilderness following their exodus from Egypt. The very next section in the Torah begins with Yitro hearing of the miraculous exodus from the land of Egypt and traveling to embrace the Jewish people and Judaism. The Jewish people are given the command to destroy the Amalekite nation and are later commanded to protect Yitro’s nation (the Keini people).
Rabbi Bachya, a great 13th century biblical commentator, explains that the Torah specifically juxtaposes these two Torah portions to highlight the very different reactions to the miraculous exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. Yitro is deeply affected by what he hears, takes it seriously, takes it to heart, and takes the bold step of joining and helping the children of Israel. This is in stark contrast to the Amalekites who posses a trait that our sages call Leytzanut or mockery. This is the character trait of taking something of great importance and minimizing it, treating it with cynicism, belittling it, mocking it, and, finally, brushing it off. If one possesses the character trait of Leytzanut, he/she takes nothing to heart and nothing impacts the core of the personality. Amalek were able to mock and brush off every report of the divine deliverance of the Jewish people to such a degree that they felt confident to brutally attack them. Some of the most misguided and evil people have turned their lives around when an important truth penetrated their hearts. However, the person who belittles every message of importance has no hope of transformation and change. This explains the prophecy of Bilam: “Amalek is the first of the nations and its end will be utter destruction.” Every nation will ultimately “get the message” and return to God but Amalek will never “get it.”
This message is an eternal one for every human being. We all have the tendency to be overly cynical and brush off matters we should take more seriously. We should take a lesson from Yitro and allow the Torah’s eternal messages and the great lessons that God teaches us in the school of life to penetrate our hearts, thereby enabling us to connect more deeply to the Jewish people and to our God.