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    Honey or vinegar

    vinegar_honeyThe final paragraph of the Torah reading reintroduces us to Amalek, that nasty, sneaky opponent who planned a cruel stratagem to weaken and harm the Children of Israel by attacking their weaker members.

    The text says asher kar’cha baderech, he met you by the way (Deut. 25:18). Kar’cha, in the view of Rashi and Rashbam, suggests “he overtook you”, indicating an ambush or surprise attack.

    Kar also means “cold”, since Amalek treated Israel with cold, callous calculation. There was no humanity, friendship or welcome in his approach.

    A lesson we can learn is that you achieve much more by turning an enemy into a friend, which is a major teaching of Avot D’Rabbi Natan (Chapter 23) and of Jewish ethics as a whole. What it implies is that you achieve much more with honey than with vinegar.

    It’s a lesson that applies on many levels, even (especially!) in public life. It may not be good politics to speak about the good points of the other side – it may not be good politics, but it is certainly statesmanship. It may not bring votes, but it serves the overall interest of the cause and the community.

    Two great Zionist thinkers, Menachem Ussishkin and Ahad HaAm, were discussing what the movement needed, and Ussishkin said, “It’s not wreckers we need, but builders.”

    In today’s world we could say, “It’s not vinegar, venom or vitriol we need, but honey.”

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