A MITZVAH TO REMEMBER Shabat Zakhor by Rabbi Baruch Cohon

       On the Sabbath before Purim we read Deuteronomy chapter 25:17-19, which commands:“Zakhor —Remember what Amalek did to you when you came out of Egypt, attacking you from the rear and killing the stragglers.  He did not fear G-d.” 

          This is one of six events the Torah cautions us to remember.  They are: 1-Leaving Egyptian slavery, 2-Sabbath every week, 3-Receiving the Torah at Sinai, 4-Angering G-d in the desert, 5-Miriam’s punishment, and 6-Amalek’s cowardly attack. 

          In our time, we could add two more: 7-Losing 6 million in the Holocaust and 8-Returning to the land of Israel.

          Sometimes remembering means Yes, let’s do it again – like Shabat.  Other times it means Never Again.  Torah teaches us to know the difference.

          But there is something special about the commandment to remember Amalek’s attack.  The text continues: “When G-d will relieve you of your enemies and establish you in your land, you must blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; do not forget.”  This reads like a commandment to total destruction, never carried out.  In fact, later Biblical history recounts how the prophet Samuel faces Agag, the captured king of Amalek, and runs him through with a spear.  Still, Amalek’s memory is not “blotted out.”  Paradoxically, this reading reminds us not to forget the memory that we failed to destroy.

          Of course it previews Purim, because Haman, the villain of the Purim story who plotted to massacre the entire Jewish people in one day, was descended from Amalek.  The Book of Esther identifies Haman as a member of Agag’s tribe.  By extension, so were other menacing figures in Jewish history, like Nebuchadnezer, Antiochus, Titus, Torquemada, Chmelnitzky, Hitler, Arafat, and Ahmedinejad.  If not physically then spiritually they are Amalek’s heirs.  Amalek and its threat lives on.

          We might well wonder, does an extreme threat validate extreme violence?  If so, did the ancient Israelites perhaps make their mistake by trying to win the “hearts and minds” of Amalek?


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