(delivered this past Shabbat)
It is on this Shabbat preceding Purim, called Shabbat Zachor, that we are called to remember. Remember…
Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Mitzrayim – how, undeterred by fear of God, Amalek surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Eternal your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! ~Deut. 25:17-19
After fleeing Pharaoh, we began the long journey towards freedom. Tattered and worn, it was our vulnerable who bore the brunt of the violence. It was not the strong who were targeted. No, Amalek plucked out his victims as a vulture chooses the weak.
What is the connection between this passage about Amalek and Purim? The answer is found in the Jerusalem Talmud. Rav says: Why is it necessary for the portion of Zachor to be said before Purim? Because it is written And these days should be remembered and celebrated by every single generation, family, province, and city; and these days of Purim should never cease among the Jews, nor shall their remembrance perish from their descendants. (Esther 9:28).
“Remembered” and “celebrated” are to be understood separately, according to Rashi. I think it is fair to say here at our shul, we know all about “celebrate.” It’s the feasting, shpielling, and merrymaking. But to “remember” is something different.
To remember is to be familiar with the story, to internalize it, and to recognize its historical and contemporary meaning. The text deliberately instructs us first to remember and then to celebrate, understanding that any observance is an empty one without first recalling the meaning behind it. Not just once. But in every generation. As our Sages taught, In every generation, Amalek rises to destroy us. (Me’am Loez, Devarim vol. 3, p. 977)
After Mordechai refuses to bow down to him, Haman persuades King Ahasuerus to turn over to him the fate of the Jews. Whereupon, in the King’s name, Haman issues a royal decree, calling for the death of all Jews. Every man, woman, and child.
In our annual Purim Shpiel, Haman always utters an evil laugh after pronouncing this ominous decree. But this past Sunday, that menacing sound sent shudders through me. For it is indeed in every generation that there are those who rise up to seek our destruction.
One week ago, tonight, in Itamar, a settlement southeast of Nablus, West Bank, a family was executed in cold blood. Udi (36) and Ruthie (35) Fogel, their sons Yoav(11) and Elad (4), and their 3-month-old daughter, Hadas. Palestinian terrorists infiltrated the settlement, broke into the Fogel home, stabbed to death five members of the family, and left. Two sons, Ro’i (8) and Yishai (2) were somehow spared from the attack AND managed to remain asleep, unaware of the horrific reality to which they would awake. It was Udi and Ruthie’s twelve year old daughter, Tamar, who would discover the slain bodies of her family upon arriving home from a youth group activity. Every man, woman, and child…
Amalek was not the first. Throughout history, there have been others. Nor will Amalek be the last. In remembering the story, in remembering our history, we are spurred to action. To remember the past, to overcome the tragedies, and work to bring peace to a broken world, as Ruth Brin captured so eloquently in her poem entitled, Remembrance.
Remember, oh remember Amalek and Haman,
Hitler and Torquemada;
Remember Moses, who lost his temper,
and Esther, who tried to hide her Judaism;
Remember, oh remember that you
were a slave in the land of Mitzrayim.
Do not forget, for memory, fluid, clouded
memory is the beginning of the future.
To remember both the good and the evil,
to love the good and understand the evil,
To uncover them in ourselves and in others,
that is the beginning of wisdom.
With memory clear, with the past understood,
we shall overcome tyranny and hatred.
We shall overcome prejudice and lust for power,
we shall overcome cruelty and fear.
understanding the past, the key to ourselves,
we shall seek courage and wisdom,
We shall seek the hereditary portion
of all peoples, which is peace.
When we overcome the evil that is past and present,
we shall overtake the future of
peace and good for all God’s children.
כן יהי רצון!