Zachor: Do not forget to Remember
The month Adar is considered to be a very special time. Before the festival of Purim, which takes place on the 14th of Adar — the 15th in ancient walled cities — we have two special Shabbats, Shabbat Shekalim and Shabbat Zachor,where we read special verses from a second Torah.
Last week we read the verses from the book of Exodus that deal with the commandment for all of Israel to give a half shekel (ancient Israelite currency) for the building and maintenance of the Mishkan (the ark and tent of meeting). This week we will read verses from the book of Deuteronomy dealing with the command to totally destroy Amalek.
‘Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey after you left Egypt — how, undeterred by fear of God, they surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!’ (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).
We read these verses on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman — the arch villain of the Purim story who wanted to wipe out all the Jews in the Persian empire — was a descendant of Amalek.
Many Jews throughout the ages have found these verses very troubling. Clearly the Amalekites behaved egregiously in attacking those among the Israelites who were most vulnerable and unable to defend themselves. The problem, however, is that throughout our history many different peoples and nations have been identified as descendants of the Amalekites, giving licence to those who would seek vengeance in our present time for that which was purported to have taken place three thousand years ago! Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli extremist, killed 29 and wounded 125 Palestinian Muslim worshippers on Purim 1994 in an attempt to reenact the Purim story.
Rabbi Kamins has stated many times that many of our stories in the Torah should not be read literally as history but rather as parables, teaching stories. I totally concur with this perspective. It is through this understanding of the way to read our texts that they come to life and help us become better, more self-realised people.
In our mystical tradition as well as in certain passages in the Talmud we see a different view of Amalek emerge — a view that I believe speaks to the essence of what the Torah is trying to teach us about how to live our lives. The mystics saw the main personalities in the Torah not just as historical figures but as attributes that exist in each and every one of us.
If we look at these verses in this week’s parsha this way,what is it trying to teach us? The word zachor means ‘to remember’. We are commanded to remember to blot out the memory of every aspect of Amalek that arises within us, and what is Amalek in our mystical tradition? Rabbi Miles Krassen states that Amalek is that quality of the yetzer hara, the evil or selfish inclination in all people, that “sneaks up on us”. It is what gets us in our weakest places, when and where we are most vulnerable. It is that sneaky power that holds us back from realising our true potential. When we are feeling weak or in a place of despair, it might seem there is no way out of that dark place we find ourselves in. Amalek is that quality that keeps us there, in that place of deep sleep. Our Torah is reminding us to blot out Amalek because in identifying this negative quality we give ourselves the opportunity to rise from the narrow places in our lives and find our true purpose. Our Rabbis state: ‘When the month of Adar begins we increase our joy’ (Taanit 29a BT). As we become aware of the negative grasp that Amalek has on us and decide to move beyond it, we begin to feel the call to realise our full potential in this world. This is the power of Adar. By the time we reach Purim on the eve of Adar’s full moon we experience this deep joy in all its fullness and can move towards the process of preparing ourselves for the liberation from slavery that follows one month later.
Rabbi Cantor George Mordecai
7 Ocean Street
Woollahra, NSW 2025
p: 02 9389 6444
Shabbat, January 30, 2021
17th of Sh'vat, 5781
Friday, January 29 2021 7:44PM
Motzei Shabbat 8:20PM
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