It’s Parshat Zachor and according to many opinions, this is the one time of the year for a piece of laining when everyone has to be in shul.
Obviously, at the moment it’s difficult with Covid but even so, extra readings of zachor are being put on in a safe and legal way in many shuls. The reason is because both men and women have to hear Parshat Zachor – it’s a chiyuv d’orayta – to remember Amalek.
You would think therefore, that if it is something so important that everyone has to hear, then it is going to be so inspiring and so uplifting and contain the core of what is to be a Jew.
However, when you read it you think to yourself, really?
Remember what Amalek did to you when you came out of Egypt. and they happened upon you on the way and they attacked all the weaklings at the rearwhen you were faint and exhausted
It was a horrific attack by Amalek – that’s the essence of the reading. It finishes by telling us that once we possess the land of Israel we have to wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.
That’s what we’ve got to bring everyone to Shul for? This is one of the most important leinings of the year, remembering a horrible event?
Of course it is true that we were saved but it doesn’t say in the leining ‘remember you were saved, remember that Hashem looked after you.’ It says remember what Amalek did to you. That’s the ikkar, the point of the remembrance.
We are not remembering that Moshe held up his hands as we all focused on Shamayim when we were saved. Parshat Zachor doesn’t talk about that, it just says remember what Amalek did to you on the way, specifically how they came, attacked you on the way out of Egypt, attacked the women and the children. It’s very strange. It doesn’t seem to be something that should be the focus of the most important leining of the year.
Of course, one opinion is that the idea is to actually remember the evil, and we have to hate it, we have to inspire in ourselves hatred for the evil. In today’s pc world that’s not a lovely idea, but it is actually a very powerful idea. That as Jews we are expected to hate evil, to love good but also to hate evil and to recognize Amalek as the epitome of evil.
However, I want to explore another idea on this zachor from Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin. I think it’s a beautiful idea which can help us understand why actually this is really one of the most fundamental things to remember in Judaism.
First, we have to understand why did Amalek attack? Now you could say, why does anyone want to attack the Jewish people? However, this was a specific attack.
We have just come out of Egypt, we’ve just defeated the major global power of the day, we’ve just been taken across the Red sea, everyone was speaking about us. This incredible Jewish nation protected by Hashem, they are invincible.
Amalek says, not so fast and they come in a despicable way, attacking the women and children. Their job was, says Rashi, to be like the person that knows they are going to lose but has to put the first blow in. Like the person getting into a very hot bath, they may scold themselves but they make the temperature cooler for everybody else. Amalek had to cast doubt on our invincibility.
Amalek had an agenda. What was their agenda? It was an agenda to say we disagree fundamentally with your ideology.
Let’s understand this. In the ancient world there used to be just one ideology – many gods, idols, demons, whatever it was. Avraham Avinu and the Jewish people then had the second ideology – one God, monotheism. Amalek created a third one, there are no gods, there’s no meaning, what you see is what you get, everything in life is just a coincidence, there’s no higher power, no higher meaning and they felt there was a real need to strike a blow against our ideology as soon as we were forming as a nation.
Think about it, three thousand years later who’s won? What ideology is really the superior ideology today? You may say monotheism look at it, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, it’s phenomenal. However, in the western world I would say that the ideas of Amalek are really in the ascendancy.
What are people’s ideologies in the world? What are many Jewish people’s ideologies in this world? They’re not God-fearing, there is no ultimate meaning, things happen by coincidence. What matters in life is the here and now. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. That’s the ideology, that’s generally the way of the Western world. It’s very sad but it’s true.
We come to Purim this week and the Purim story comes at a time when the Jewish people are living in Shushan, and depending which opinion you understand, either it was just before they go back to rebuild the second temple or it’s just after that, but it’s around the time when the exile from Bavel is ending and the return under Persia is beginning. We returned after 70 years to rebuild the second temple.
Today, 2500 years later, we have returned to Israel after two thousand years, not under Persian rule but under our rule, a sovereign Jewish state – miracle.
Our survival through Haman’s and his descendants for generations to come, we’ve survived, we’ve thrived – miracle.
The Jewish people, the State of Israel, miracle after miracle after miracle and yet for many people, Jewish or non-jewish, they are just blind. They don’t see it, they don’t understand it. Don’t connect the dots, don’t see the yad Hashem.
So, what is so crucial about Parshat Zachor? Rav Tzadok says an amazing thing, look at the context, don’t just look at parshat Amalek, understand what led to Amalek coming. That’s not in Parshat Ki Teitzei, that’s in Parshat Beshalach, where the story happens, Ki Teitzei just reports that story, Beshalach is when it says:
He named the place Massah [testing] and Merivah [quarreling] because of the quarrel of the children of Israel and because of their testing the Lord, saying, Is the Lord in our midst or not?
There was doubt – doubting themselves, doubting Hashem, that gave Amalek a door opening.
Amalek has the same gematria as safek – doubt. Amalek is that ideology that says to you, are you sure, do you really think there’s a God who cares about your life, cares about the world, do you really think that all these things happen for a reason? No, there’s no reason everything just happens, just go with it, go with the flow.
Says Rav Tzadok, remember what Amalek did, because that ideology is there to destroy who we truly need to be. We need to be people who are maaminim, believing in Hashem, understanding that everything happens for a reason, understanding there is a purpose to every single person on this planet, understanding that everything is happening in a way to bring Hashem’s presence fully into the world. That is what we believe.
Therefore, we have to remember what brought Amalek to us was our lack of emunah, our lack of understanding of what is our ideology and therefore shabbat Zachor and Purim remind us to lo tishcach, don’t forget who you are, don’t forget the ideology you espouse, don’t forget what Torah is, what Hashem is.
That is why every single person has to hear Zachor, because in today’s day and age, with a western world that is focused to a large extent on hedonism and nihilism, we have to remind ourselves who we are, what Am Yisrael is and what HaKadosh Baruch Hu expects us to be.