24 Aug 2023 Ki Seitzei 5783: Memory vs. History
At the very end of this week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Seitzei, the Torah records the mitzvah of zechiras Amalek:
זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר–עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק, בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם – You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt; אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ כָּל־הַנֶּֽחֱשָׁלִ֣ים אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַתָּ֖ה עָיֵ֣ף וְיָגֵ֑עַ וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱלֹקָֽים – That he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the weak ones at your rear, when you were faint and weary, and he did not fear G-d; וְהָיָ֡ה בְּהָנִ֣יחַ ה אֱלֹקיךָ לְ֠ךָ֠ מִכָּל־אֹ֨יְבֶ֜יךָ מִסָּבִ֗יב בָּאָ֨רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר ה־אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵ֨ן לְךָ֤ נַֽחֲלָה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח – And it will be, when Hashem your G-d grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which Hashem, your G-d, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall erase the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget (Devarim 25:17-19).
These verses, and the mitzvah of zechiras Amalek, refer to an event that occurred forty years prior, a few weeks after the nation left Egypt. As the newly born nation was journeying on its way, having just crossed the Reed Sea, and not yet having arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai, the nation of Amalek (descendants of Eisav, see Bereishis 36:12) chanced upon them and viciously attacked them, specifically targeting the weak and defenseless amongst them. This attack, its audaciousness and viciousness, is meant to become part of our national memory.
Times of Israel, Tuesday August 22, 2023:
Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral on Monday night of Batsheva Nigri, a 42-year-old mother of three who was killed in a terror shooting attack close to Hebron on Monday morning (8/21/23). Family and friends of Nigri, a resident of Beit Hagai who worked as a kindergarten teacher in nearby Efrat, paid their last respects to her at the Gush Etzion Regional Cemetery in Kfar Etzion on Monday night.
In her eulogy, Nigri’s sister, Eliya, said she was “the most special sister I could have. This is an unimaginable loss,” said Nigri’s mother-in-law. “You were always facing forward, with a smile and with endless hope.”
Nigri was killed when a vehicle she was in with her 12-year-old daughter, who was in the backseat and was physically unharmed in the attack, and a driver, came under fire from a passing car while driving on the Route 60 highway. Gottlieb (the driver of the vehicle) was seriously wounded in the attack and was rushed to Beersheba’s Soroka Hospital where he was stabilized after undergoing surgery. Gottlieb is a father of six who had been en route to buy books for his children.
In her eulogy to her mother, Nigri’s daughter, Shirel, recounted the attack: “Today we went out shopping in Jerusalem, and suddenly we heard gunshots. The windows were broken, and you were no longer awake. Ima, I want to give you a hug one last time. I miss you. You were the happiest person I know. I ask that you watch over us and don’t leave me. My children will know what an amazing mother I had,” she said.
Nigri’s brother hailed her as an “amazing wife, a wonderful mother and an aunt like no other. You were also amazing to the children in all the kindergartens where you worked — hundreds of children learned what Judaism is from you. I refuse to accept what the mind already knows,” he said.
Nigri’s neighbor Hannah Zarichon related, “Batsheva was a fun, happy woman” who was very active in the Efrat community, including as its volunteer youth coordinator, organizing many events for local residents. “She had an infectious laugh… and always volunteered with a huge smile.” Nigri and her husband also served as foster parents to two young children, Zarichon said (https://www.timesofisrael.com/you-were-all-light-funeral-held-for-israeli-woman-killed-in-hebron-terror-shooting/).
זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר–עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק – “Remember what Amalek did to you”. R’ Lord J. Sacks z’l writes, “It is remarkable that biblical Hebrew (lashon ha’kodesh) has no word for history. Modern Hebrew had to borrow a word: historia. The key word in the Hebrew Bible is not history but memory. Zakhor, the command to remember, occurs time and again in the Torah… The word zakhor in one or other of its forms occurs no fewer than one hundred and sixty-nine times in the Hebrew Bible. As Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi notes, ‘Only in Israel and nowhere else is the injunction to remember felt as a religious imperative to an entire people.’ This was Moses’ injunction to future generations… Jews were to become a people of memory.
“The Hebrew verb zakhor signifies more than a consciousness of the past. My predecessor, Lord Jakobovits, pointed out that the word yizkor, the name given to the traditional Jewish prayer for the deceased, is associated in the Torah with the future (Gen.8:1, 19:29, 30:22). We remember the past for the sake of the future, and for life.
“There is a profound difference between history and memory. History is his story – an event that happened sometime else to someone else. Memory is my story – something that happened to me and is part of who I am. History is information. Memory is part of identity. I can study the history of other peoples, cultures and civilizations… but they do not make a claim on me. They are the past as past. Memory, zakhor, is past as present, and it lives on in me. Without memory there can be no identity. Our nation has continuing identity to the extent that it can remember where it came from and who its ancestors were…. To be a Jew is to know that over and above history is the task of memory. More than any other faith, Judaism made memory a matter of religious obligation” (The Jonathan Sacks Haggada, p.37-41).
May we merit that great day when we shall witness the fulfillment of Hashem’s promise, a promise related to our remembrance of an ancient enemy that lives on throughout the millennia: וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל–מֹשֶׁה, כְּתֹב זֹאת זִכָּרוֹן בַּסֵּפֶר, וְשִׂים, בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ: כִּי–מָחֹה אֶמְחֶה אֶת–זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם – and Hashem said to Moshe, Inscribe this [as] a memorial in the book, and recite it into Yehoshua’s ears, that I will surely obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens (Shemos 17:14).
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,