Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayikra – Shabbat ZachorHanukkah 5779
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
Remembering Amalek, Yesterday and Today
This Shabbat is the Shabbat prior to Purim, and it has a special name, Shabbat Zachor, or the Shabbat of remembrance (literally, “remember”). This is because we read a special maftir from a second Torah scroll. On this paragraph we read, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). What is the reason for this reading? Why are we to remember this biblical episode in our days?
Amalek’s people attacked Israel in the desert, an act symboling cruelty to the weak. Haman, the villain of the Book of Esther, is identified as a descendant of Amalek. Before celebrating during Purim, we must remember that the Children of Israel went to war with the Amalekites. We, the Jewish people, are not to be at ease until all the modern Amalekites are blotted out.
As Rabbi Irving Greenberg points out, Zachor (remember) “is a mitzvah that has made modern Jews uncomfortable. The natural desire to forget and be happy collides with the ongoing pain of memory and analysis.… Some modern people who are future-oriented stress the need to forgive. They argue that there will be no reconciliation as long as the memories of the cruelties and atrocities of the past are preserved and thrown in the face of those involved. ‘Forget and forgive’ becomes their slogan.”
The fact that every year we have a Shabbat Zachor, a Shabbat for remembering what our enemies did to us, teaches us that real reconciliation comes only with repentance and remembrance. Besides, remembering is the only way to avoid repeating the errors of the past. When we remember the hatred that befell us in the past and learn from it, we can recognize alarm signs in our days. This can help us to face adversity more efficiently.
The lessons from Shabbat Zachor are very current and relevant since, unfortunately, antisemitism is on the rise in our days. We have been witnessing the rise of antisemitism and the hatred for Israel, which frequently come together, in other parts of the world, especially in Europe and Latin America. Also here, in our country, we have lately seen this abhorrent phenomenon that past generations thought was fading.
This coming Shabbat we will fulfill the important mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to our ancestors, what Amalek did to our people in the desert, and what the followers of Amalek did to us in so many different generations throughout our history. Let’s remember, learn, and be alert, so that we can fight antisemitism firmly and decisively.