In this week’s Bible portion (“Beshalach,” meaning “when you are sent”), God sent the Jews out of slavery in Egypt, took them through the sea unharmed, and fed them in the unforgiving desert.
Soon enough they are confronted by the enemy Amalek. Exodus 17:8:
“וַיָּבֹ֖א עֲמָלֵ֑ק וַיִּלָּ֥חֶם עִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בִּרְפִידִֽם”
“Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.”
The commentator Rashi explains that the appearance of Amalek purposefully follows the immediate prior verse, in which Moses names a place “striving and quarrelling” because of an incident concerning the Jewish people’s lack of faith. If you habitually attack God when God is taking care of you, He will give you something to worry about. In English:
“He [God] juxtaposed this section to this verse, [“Is the Lord in our midst or not? “] implying: “I am always among you, and [I am] always prepared for all your necessities, but you say, Is the Lord in our midst or not?’ By your life, the dog will come and bite you, and you will cry out to Me, and [then] you will know where I am ” Rashi [English translation], Exodus 17:8
In Hebrew, “Amalek” has a Gematria of 240. So does the word “Safek” (ספק). Doubt itself is the enemy. The evil Amalekites only fanned the flame of the doubt that was already in the Jews’ hearts.
“Chassidus teaches that whenever our enthusiasm for a mitzvah is dampened, it’s our personal internal Amalak doing it to us, and we are enjoined to blot it out. It is interesting to note that the word for “doubt” in Hebrew, is “sofek”, which has the same gematria (numerical value) as Amalak (240). So whenever we have a doubt that slows or prevents a mitzvah, that is Amalak slowing or preventing that mitzvah.” Chabad of South Brunswick
The form the attack took was simple. The Amalekites took advantage of people who were mentally and spiritually weak, inducing them to sin even further, through sex. When that was done, they killed them and cut off their genitals, in effect boasting to God that no man could be holy (Kehot Chumash [Chabad], Parshas Beshalach, p. 111; various sources)
Spirituality is a very special and a very frail thing. Often we are on the verge of the victory, but the enemy grabs hold of our fear and doubt. They act as agents provocateur, inducing people to bad behavior, after which they are tainted and “irredeemable.”
The behavior of the enemy is well-portrayed in Laura Branigan’s classic music video, “Self-Control.”
Don’t let 240 grab hold of you.
By Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain. Photo by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya from Pexels.