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Melamed: This time there is no Amalek

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Images combined from a 3D medical animation, depicting the shape of coronavirus as well as the cross-sectional view. (Wikimedia Commons/https://www.scientificanimations.com)

With consternation and an eye-popping, abominable lack of unity, Israel is dealing with an unprecedented crisis – the coronavirus – that consists of four crises intertwined one with another:

Health crisis: A worldwide pandemic is spreading rapidly from continent to continent, from country to country, carried from place to place by global connectivity.

Governmental crisis: After three rounds of elections, as I write this, Israel still does not have a government. Two political blocs keep attacking each other like two exhausted boxers flailing away at the other’s sweaty body, neither with the ability to land the deciding blow.

Economic crisis: Israel’s economic train, bearing millions of anxious citizens, is hurtling downwards to an economic crisis the likes of which we have not witnessed since the recession at the time the country was founded.

Societal crisis: The political-governmental crisis in Israel, during which negative emotions such as hatred, fear and anxiety are intentionally exploited, reflects the global trend of elevating the “I” at the expense of the “we.”

The State of Israel has the knowledge and ability to deal with massive challenges and crises, and has done so since its founding – from the War of Independence, to the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, as well as many other trials along the way. But the coronavirus crisis has one unique characteristic: There is no “Amalek.”

In Jewish tradition, Amalek has been the code throughout the generations for our most implacable foes, whether the Amalekites who attacked the Israelites just after they left Egypt, Haman the Agagite in the Book of Esther, Hitler, or the arch-terrorist Arafat and all the rest of the Jew/Israel-haters. We read about our mythic enemy every year on Shabbat Zachor (“Shabbat Remember”) when the Torah reader recites, “Remember what Amalek did to you… “ (Deuteronomy 25:17) so that we will remember who is evil, and from whom we must defend ourselves.

READ: MELAMED: THE SAFETY OF THE MEDIC BEFORE THE SAFETY OF THE PATIENT

We know who Amalek is: a demonic figure whom we should fear, fight, kill. But at the same time, the image of an Amalek gives a concrete focus that religious, political, and other players can exploit for their own ends, an image that is used to unite us in the struggle against it.

But in this crisis we have no Amalek, only a tiny, invisible, Satanic virus. So whom will we hate? Whom will we blame? Whom will we fear? Whom will we call “the enemy”?

Our world is changing drastically. Today just about the only certainty is uncertainty. But after 72 years during which we blamed the enemies in our neighbourhood for so many of our troubles, claiming that if not for them we would be living in a paradise, perhaps it is time we came to our senses. During the coronavirus crisis, we are in the same boat as they are: the proliferation of the virus in Judea and Samaria, for one example, endangers the health of Israelis no less than its proliferation in Kfar Saba.

So as we need to find renewed strength to deal with these unprecedented crises – governmental, economic, health, societal – we can already learn one lesson from the coronavirus: Not all of our troubles can be blamed on Amalek. 

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Sagi Melamed is vice-president of external relations and development at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and president of the Harvard Club of Israel. He is the author of Son of My Land and Fundraising.