|I am writing this overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.|
I am here as part of the celebrations for the Jerusalem Marathon.
I was hoping to run myself (not the marathon, the 10km course!) but injured myself a few weeks back.
Still it was wonderful to be here to see the spectacle and soak up the amazing atmosphere and celebrate with many of the runners from Bnei Akiva and Mizrachi. The fact that Purim is around the corner added to a real carnival atmosphere in Gan Sacher today.
We are also here as we are performing Dreams of a Nation as part of the celebrations on Motzei Shabbat which links to the idea of the marathon quite perfectly – let me explain.
The idea of the Marathon race comes from the legend of Philippides, the Greek messenger. The legend states that he was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon (in which he had just fought), which took place in August or September, 490 BCE. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming, “we have won!”, before collapsing and dying!
The route he ran, from Marathon to Athens was approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) long, and this was the approximate distance originally used for marathon races. Around the same time as that battle, the Persians were also battling with the Jewish people in Shushan as we faced annihilation at the hands of Haman the Amalakite.
This Shabbat is Shabbat Zachor where we are commanded to wipe out the nation of Amalek. Yet the reading for Parshat Zachor seems to be repetitive. It begins with Zachor et asher assah lecha Amalek – Remember what Amalek did to you – the Torah then lists what Amalek did to us when we came out of Egypt, how they attacked the women and children when we were weak. It ends off two verses later with the famous line ‘Timche et Zecher amalek mitachat Hashamayim. – You shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. But that is not the end of the pasuk, the trop, the tune under Hashamayim is an et nachta. A comma or a semi colon, a pause but not the end. The last two words are seemingly a clarion call to our people – loh tishkach, don’t forget!
Don’t forget what?
Obviously, it is referring to Amalek and what they did to us. However, the Maftir began with Zachor – remember what Amalek did. It seems strange, remember what they did and do not forget, a bit repetitive! Traditionally, we understand the verses as two separate commandments. Remember Amalek’s treachery orally and don’t forget in your heart their hatred and enmity.
I would like to offer another explanation which I heard many years ago.
Yes, Remember what Amalek did, what Amalek are, what they wish to do to you. But never forget who you are, never forget your identity, never forget your covenant with God and the Torah – lo tishkach – never forget.
Dreams of a Nation is a show that takes one on a journey from Avraham Avinu to the present day, it explores the story of our nation and you realise that our existence on this planet has not been a sprint, but more of a marathon.
What makes the Jerusalem Marathon so unique is the nature of the topography, the many hills and valleys make it a very difficult run. So too with our long history as shown in Dreams of a Nation, we have our high points and low points. A marathon is 40km, our marathon story has spanned almost 4000 years.
To me the Jerusalem marathon sums up the idea of the Jewish nation reborn – we have returned to the streets of Jerusalem, we have come home.
– The hundreds of Yeshiva and Sem students who have come to learn Torah from all around the world were running to raise thousands for charity.
– The 8:30am Shacharit service in Gan Sacher before the race began – tallit and tefillin were then put away in the lockers and the runners began.
– Wishing total strangers at the end of the race Shabbat Shalom and seeing the unity of the Jewish nation.
Lo Tishkach – don’t forget what we have been through, where we have come from, what we have endured, how we have survived, how we have returned.
The race is still not over – but we believe that we are living in reishit tzmichat geuloteinu – the beginning of our final redemption.
In other words – we can see the finish line!
Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach