Parasha Ki Tetzei

Have you ever heard of “cross generational retribution”?  Our parsha, Ki Teitze succinctlystates: “Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death for his own crime.”    This is consistent with the rest of the parsha (such as 23:8) where we are told not to “abhor” the Edomite or Egyptian.  

The inclination to view each generation on its own merits seems to be an innovation in Deuteronomy.   We are told in Exodus 34:7 that God will extend kindness “to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin: yet He does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquity of parents upon children and children’s children, upon the third and fourth generations.”   We see Jeremiah and Ezekiel both acknowledge a shift in theology from the belief that God punishes innocent children to the progressive idea of giving each generation a fresh start.

How do we reconcile this internal contradiction?  We are told time and time again “blot out Amalek” and that God will wage war on him for generations.   That is “cross generational retribution”.   Can we forgive the Egyptians but not Amalek?   The traditional explanation is that each generation of Amalek continued its evil path (all the way to Haman).

In the same vein, we are told in Midrash Tanhuma that as long as Amalek is present, a wing covers the face of God, hiding God from the world.   The ongoing battle against Amalek can be understood, not as a genocidal reaction to an existential threat, but as a religious response to defeat hatred and restore divine presence to its place in the world.

Still, the response to find Amalek in the face of our contemporary enemies is very common.  Outrageously, some Jews have reacted by adopting the worst values of our enemies, and treating the whole spectrum of non-Jews as Amalek.   There is a book in Israel called “Torat Ha-Meleckh” that has received support from some prominent rabbis, despite its call to preemptively murder “future terrorists”, which is nothing more than “code” for Arab children.   Most mainstream rabbis and organizations have rightly condemned this vile tome, but it is having an insidious effect on the state of the Jewish soul.   I have personally seen signs in Meah Shearim describing the Israeli government as Amalek.   In the horrific days leading to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, posters were displayed depicting him dressed in a Nazi uniform---the modern marker of Amalek

Do we view the world through the lens of Amalek or rather through the rest of the parsha?   Do we just “blot them all out”?  From my perspective, the case of Amalek is the exception that proves the rule.  We read the episode to remember that there are genocidal maniacs in the world.  We must not view new generations as bearers of their ancestral sins—each generation is viewed anew, on its “own” merits (and vices).

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham