Amalek: A Licking for Amalek ~ Yehoshua Steinberg
Updated: Mar 18
If one’s offering to G-d is a burnt-offering of fowl, he shall bring his offering from turtledoves or from young doves. The Kohen shall bring it to the Altar, וּמָלַק its head, and cause it to go up in smoke on the Altar (Leviticus 1:14-15). וּמָלַק its head at its nape, but not separate it(Leviticus 5:8).
I would like to propose that there is a common link among all Hebrew words that contain the letter pair לק, namely: בלק, דלק, חלק, ילק, מלק, עלק, לקק, לקה, לקש, לקט. Common to all these words are aspects of destruction, annihilation, death/ and cutting off. Let us now analyze them, one at a time.
1) Root מלק:
The only appearance in Scripture of the root “מלק” is in our parshah (portion), in the verse cited above. Rashi interprets וּמָלַק as: He cuts away with his nail at its nape, cutting off its neck until he reaches and severs the simanim (i.e., the trachea and esophagus). [It is interesting to note that the root “מלק” is a permutation of the root “קמל”, which most commentators interpret to mean cut off (see Metz. Tzion to Isaiah 19:6). I now see that Targumna (Vayikra, pg. 764) already made note of this.]
2) Root בלק:
The root “בלק” also connotes cutting off/destruction, as Metz. Tzion notes in Isaiah 24:1, regarding the word וּבוֹלְקָהּ in that verse, and the word וּמְבֻלָקָּה in Nachum 2:11. We also find this root in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98b), in the Aramaic expression “חילק ובילק”. While noting that others do not view the word ובילק as a verb, Rashi himself concludes that both in its usage there, as well as inChullin 19a, it means “an expression of destruction” and is of the same root as the word וּמְבֻלָקָּה in the Nachum verse.
3) Root חלק:
In its direct definition, divide, this root connotes separating or cutting apart. But in BB 11a, Rashi links it explicitly to cutting. In discussing the laws of dividing property among partners, the Mishna there states that the Books of Scripture may not be divided even if both parties are willing to do so. Rashi explains: “It was once customary to write the twenty-four books (of Scripture) on a scroll, like our Torah scrolls. Therefore, it is a disgrace to cut them.” Moreover, quarrels (מחלוקת) among people leads to destruction, as the Sages state in Mas. Derech Eretz 7:37: A city in which there is division is destined to be destroyed. The Sages stated: Quarrels in a city [leads to] bloodshed.
4) Root דלק:
The root “דלק”, in all of its meanings, connotes pursuit for the purpose of destruction, annihilation and death (see Rashi to Psalms7:14), as in the following examples: And they will ignite (וְדָלְקוּ) them and devour them (Obadiah 1:18); hotly pursuing (דֹלְקִים) lips and an evil heart (Proverbs 26:23); Woe, O city of bloodshed! I too will … increase the wood, kindle (הַדְלֵק) the fire (Ezekiel 24:9-10); His throne was of fiery flames, its wheels a fire ablaze (דָּלִק) (Daniel 7:9-11), i.e., “a fire raging in wrath and fury to annihilate the evil ones” (Malbim, ad loc.) [See also Genesis 31:36; Deuteronomy 28:22; I Samuel 17:53; Isaiah 5:11-24; Psalms 7:14, 10:2;Lamentations 4:19.]
5) Root לקק:
We do not find any examples wherein the term “לְקִיקָה”, licking, has a direct connotation of cutting/cutting off. However, we do find this connotation for the equivalent meaning verb “לחך” (lick up) (see Aruch, root “לקק”). In Balak’s statement regarding what Israel might do to his people, Now the congregation will lick up (יְלַחֲכוּ) all our surroundings (Numbers 22:4), Onkelos translates יְלַחֲכוּ asיְשֵׁיצוּן, they will destroy. [It appears that this is what Ibn Ezra refers to when he writes in his comments to Joel 1:4 that Targum refers to a ילק as cutting off.] Sifsei Chachamim explains that it is an expression of “extirpating from its root,” a fear that was justified by Scripture’s testimony that in the recent battle with Og, king of Bashan that triggered Balak’s fear, the Israelites smote … all his people, until there was no survivor left of him (ibid. 21:35). Similar to this description of utter annihilation by way of the verb licking up,Moses prophesied that the Israelites will annihilate the nations occupying the land of Israel by way of the statement, You will devour(וְאָכַלְתָּ) all the peoples that Hashem, your God, will deliver to you (Deuteronomy 7:16). As explained by Ibn Ezra, “it is a mitzvah to annihilate them like one who eats bread.” Similarly, in the Mishnah (B.K. 60a), the Sages infer from the verse, If a fire shall go forth and find thorns, and a stack of grain or a standing crop or a field is “consumed,” the one who kindled the fire shall make restitution (Exodus 22:5), that he is also held liable if the fire “consumed trees, stones, or earth.” Rashi explains that by “consumed earth,” the Mishnah means that the fire “licked up a ploughed field and it was ruined” — using the phrase לִיחֲכָה נִירוֹ that appears earlier in the Gemara (ibid. 6a, 10a).
6) Root ילק:
We also find the link of לק to destruction in the noun יֶלֶק, another name for אַרְבֶּה (locust), which brings about destruction to the crops of the field. Commenting on the verse, There fire will consume you … it will consume you like the chewing-locust (Nahum 3:15), Rashi explains that “the chewing-locust destroys and annihilates all the greenery of the field.” Moreover, in discussing a plague of various types of locusts that will destroy all the crops in Israel, the prophet states, What remained from the גָזָם, the אַרְבֶּה has devoured; what remained from the אַרְבֶּה, the יֶלֶק has devoured; and what remained from the יֶלֶק, the חָסִיל has devoured (Joel 1:4). Ibn Ezra explains that the different types of locust were named based on the degree to which they destroyed the greenery. The גָזָם(cutting-locust) only cuts it off (גוֹזֵז); the יֶלֶק (chewing-locust) licks it up (לוֹקֵק) and cuts it off (as indicated in Targum) with its tongue, and the חָסִיל (demolishing-locust) completely eliminates it (חוֹסֵל).
7) Root עלק:
The leech עֲלוּקָה) ), which sucks out the lifeblood of a person, is used as a simile for death and the grave in Proverbs 30:15, according to Rashi and Midrash Tehillim. [Metz. David explains that “the grave is compared to a leech because it sucks and draws all living beings to it just as the leech sucks the blood.”] Likewise, the Rambam writes in Hil. Teshuvah (8:5): This utter loss (of a person who merits no share in the World to Come or Afterlife) is what the Prophets call metaphorically a well of destruction (Psalms 55:24), utter loss (ibid. 88:12), hell (Isaiah 30:33) and a leech (Proverbs 30:15). They refer to it with all sorts of expressions of annihilation and destruction, because this is destruction from which one can never recover, and the loss can never be reversed.
8) Root לקש:
In relating how Jacob caused Laban’s flocks to bear many spotted and speckled sheep by placing peeled rods in front of them during mating time, Scripture states (Genesis 30:42) that he did not place the rods there בְּהַעֲטִיף הַצֹאן (which Onkelos translates as בְּלַקִישׁוּת עָנָא), so that the עֲטוּפִים went to Laban. Rashi explains that בְּלַקִישׁוּת עָנָא means “when the sheep were late-bearing,” similar to the Scriptural word מַלְקוֹשׁ, which means the latest rains of the wet season; thus, the עֲטוּפִים (“late-bearers”) ended up remaining with Laban, as they were not affected by the rods. However, Rabbeinu Bachya (ibid. v. 38) says that עֲטוּפִים refers to the tired and weak ones, that already gave birth in the past. Since they are exhausted and weak, they don’t bother to look at what is in front of them; hence, Jacob did not exter himself to put the rods in front of them. Baal HaTurim, following this same definition, compares it to the verse, הָעֲטוּפִים בְּרָעָב (Lamentations 2:19), which means “those who were so weakened by hunger that they died.” Malbim suggests an entirely different definition of the root “עטף”, yet one that also relates to weakness and death. In his comments on the verse, A prayer of the afflicted man when יַעֲטֹף (Psalms 102:1), he writes: This depicts either an individual exile, or the entire nation of exiles as a single person, whose soul is עֲטוּפָה from its many sufferings, i.e., is fainting and about to leave his body. [See also Malbim toPsalms 77:4, and Targum Yonasan to Jonah 2:8).]
We also find an instance in Scripture (Job 24:6) of the root “לקש” appearing in verb form, They reap produce in the field; the wickedיְלַקֵּשׁוּ the vineyard, with Ibn Ezra defining it as “the cutting off of the לֶקֶשׁ (late crop).”
9) Root לקה:
The Aramaic root ,”לקה” means hitting [with Onkelos translating וַיֻכּוּ (they were beaten) as וְלָקוּ] or flogging [the punishment of thirty-nine lashes is called מַלְקוּת]. Moreover, according to one view in the Talmud (see Sanhedrin 10a), the flogging by the Beis Din (religious court in Jerusalem) is intended to serve as a replacement punishment for death.
10) Root לקט:
Scripture states, It shall be on that day that God will thresh (יַחֲבּוֹט), from the surging [Euphrates] River to the Brook of Egypt, and you will be gathered up (תְּלֻקְּטוּ) one by one, O Children of Israel (Isaiah 27:12). Thus, the direct meaning of לקט is gathered. However, Rashi notes that Targum Yonasan translates יַחֲבּוֹט as יִתְרְמוּן קְטִילִין, but then adds that in his own opinion, the terms יַחֲבּוֹט and תְּלֻקְּטוּwork as a pair, with the verse stating that just as one whacks the olives off the tree, while someone else then gathers them up, so will God gather the people of Israel after they were separated from their enemies. Note that the root “לקט” is a permutation of the root“קטל”, meaning kill, and we can find an allusion to this connection in Rashi’s comments. We also find that the similarly meaning term“אסף” (gather) also has another meaning of die, as in וַיֵאָסֶף אֶל עַמָיו, and he was gathered (i.e., died) to his people (Genesis 25:8). Fordeath is essentially a gathering up of one’s soul and returning it to its original home.
May it be G-d’s will that we should gather (נלקט) up only mitzvot and good deeds, that we should be able to grasp (לִקְלוֹט) the wonders of all the Torah’s hidden mysteries. May we merit to see the day when the nation of destroyers (עמלק), and their latter-day proteges will themselves get the ultimate licking they deserve.