The Shabbat prior to the publication of the next issue of community, March 18-19, is Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance. Shabbat Zachor is always the Sabbath prior to Purim. We read Deuteronomy 25:17-19 as an extra section of Torah on this Shabbat, which briefly describes the perfidy of the Amalikites and instructs us how to deal with them in no uncertain, yet strangely contradictory terms.
The Amalikites were the first foes encountered by the Israelites after they witnessed God’s vanquishing of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. Perhaps because they were the initial enemy, they became the archetypal foe for all time.
To me, the reason for our hatred for Amalek is even deeper. It is not only that Amalek attacked but of greater importance, how Amalek attacked. The Amalekites chose to attack us when we were tired and to go after the folks in the rear; not the soldiers but the most vulnerable. The Amalekites made short work of the young and the old, cowardly avoiding our soldiers. Brutal as it was, the strategy of the Amalikites was quite effective.
These verses from Deuteronomy end with a totally puzzling contradiction, “when…God grants you safety from all your enemies … you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”
We are command to remember the deed while blotting out our memory of the perpetrator. To me, this is impossible. Indeed, I find myself in good company as Rashi, the Torah commentator par excellence, barely deals with it.
So what do we do? Our celebration of Purim provides an answer. According to tradition, that wicked, wicked man, Haman, descended from the Amalikites. When his name is read in the Megillat Esther you know what we do. With raucous noise and grating greggers we blot out that sound. When we hear it we remember immediately what to do: we blot it out!
Chag Samaeach Purim!
Shabbat candles should be lit on Fridays, January 29 at 5:44 p.m., February 5 at 5:52 p.m., February 12 at 5:59 p.m., February 19 at 6:07 p.m. and February 26 at 6:14 p.m.
Editor’s note: Rabbi Stanley R. Miles, the rabbi of Temple Shalom (Reform), has volunteered to provide Torah commentaries for Community.