Zechiras Amalek: An Ancient Enemy, A Modern Foe

This Shabbos we will read Parshas Tetzaveh.  The sedra speaks of the bigdei kehunah (the priestly vestments), further details regarding the Mishkan, as well as the mizbayach ha’zahav (golden altar).

A second sefer Torah will also be taken out from the aron kodesh, and from this we will read from Sefer Devarim 25:17-19, to fulfill the mitzvas asay d’Oraisa of זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁרעָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק, Remember that which Amalek did to you on the way as you were leaving Egypt.  At the end of his life, Moshe exhorts us to remember and never forgetלֹא תִּשְׁכָּח – the attack of Amalek against the tired, the weary, the weak ones at the rear.

Moshe is referring to the Amalekite attack against the newly freed Israelites slaves forty years prior, when the nation was but a few weeks away from the Exodus (Shemos 17:8-16).  With great savagery and daring, Amalek – a nation that does not fear G-d – had no qualms or fears about launching an attack against Am Yisrael.

Why is this Torah portion publicly read every year the Shabbos before Purim, when men and women (and many children) all go to hear these ancient words of Torah read aloud, in fulfillment of the mitzvah of ‘zachor’ ‘Thou shall remember’?  The wicked oppressor, Haman, who stood up to destroy, kill and obliterate all Jews (Esther 3:13) was known as הָמָן הָאֲגָגִי (Esther 8:3); Haman, a descendant of Agag, King of Amalek.  Hence, before we read of the salvation on Purim with Mikrah Megillah, we fulfill the mitzvah of Zechiras Amalek; not only do we remember Amalek, the grandson of Eisav (Bereishis 36:12), and Haman ha’rasha m’zerah Amalek, but we must remember every Amalek in every generation that rises to destroy us.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav zt’l, teaches in the name of his grandfather Rav Chaim Brisker zt’l, that Amalek is anyone in every generation who rises up to destroy us.

This past Yom Rishon 5 Adar 5783 (Sunday 2/26/23), 21 year-old Hillel Menachem Yaniv HY”D and his brother, 19 year-old Yagel Yaakov Yaniv HY”D, were shot at point blank range while driving through the Arab village of Huwara on Route 60, the primary north-south traffic artery in Judea and Samaria.  The two brothers were hesder yeshiva students, and were killed while driving back to their yeshivot from their home in Har Bracha.

Hillel, a student in Kiryat Shemona in northern Israel, had recently completed his military service in the Israeli navy, and was set to resume his yeshiva studies.  Yagel Yaakov, a student at the Givat Olga hesder yeshiva, had been helping his yeshiva open up a branch in Tirat HaCarmel, and was set to begin his pre-induction process ahead of his formal draft into the army.

Hours after the attack, the boys’ mother sent a recorded voice message to the youth of Har Bracha.  “I spoke with my children and you’re also like my children…I want to tell you something,” she said. “We received a slap from HKB”H, a powerful slap. I don’t know why.  We’re trying to find the good things and the chessed – that beforehand we had a family Shabbat, that we had good conversations with them yesterday, that we took a family photo. HKB”H sends chassadim (kindnesses), He sent us – together with the painful blow – chassadim.  We have a hole, a huge hole in our hearts. Nothing will close this hole – not construction [of a new yishuv], not protests, not anything. And family smachot will just be a bandaid. The hole will remain. We’ll learn to live with it, and live with it b’simcha and continue, and draw strength from you and our children.  If you ask what to do, increase your limud Torah – both of them were on the way to limud Torah. Do meaningful service in the army.  There are no words, there are no words that can comfort, that can express…we’re depending on you.

זָכוֹר, אֵת אֲשֶׁרעָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק, בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִםRemember what Amalek did to youתִּמְחֶה אֶתזֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם; לֹא, תִּשְׁכָּח, erase the rememberance of Amalek from under the heavens do not forget.

Rabbi Lord J. Sacks z’l writes, “It is remarkable (to note) that biblical Hebrew has no word for history.  Modern Hebrew had to borrow a word: historia.  The key word of the Hebrew Bible is not history but memory.  Zachor, the command to remember, occurs time and again in the Torah.  And with equal insistence, there is the command not to forget… The word zachor in one or other of its forms occurs no fewer than 169 times in the Hebrew Bible… Jews were to become a people of memory… The Hebrew verb zachor signifies more than a consciousness of the past.  Rabbi Lord Jakovobits pointed out that the word yizkor, the name given to the traditional Jewish prayer for the deceased, is in the future tense… We remember 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 to someone else.  Memory is my story – something that happened to me and is part of who I am.  History is information.  Memory, by contrast, is part of identity.  I can study the history of other people’s cultures, and civilizations.  They deepen my knowledge and broaden my horizons.  But they do not make a claim to me.  They are the past as past.  Memory is past as present, as it lives on in me.  Without memory there can be no identity… Our nation has a continuing identity to the extent that it can remember where it came from and who its ancestors were…

“Our covenant is essentially linked to education and memory, for the journey is long – longer than many lifetimes – and only when each generation hands on to the next what it has heard and learned and prayed for does the journey continue; and only if the journey continues is history redeemed… To be a Jew is to know that over and above history is the task of memory” (The Jonathan Sacks Haggada, Maggid Books, p.37-41).

This Shabbos Parshas Zachor, as we prepare to celebrate the simcha of Purim, let us first fulfill the mitzvah of zachor: thou shall remember.  We remember the past to build for the future: זְכֹר יְמוֹת עוֹלָם, בִּינוּ שְׁנוֹת דֹּרוָדֹר; שְׁאַל אָבִיךָ וְיַגֵּדְךָ, זְקֵנֶיךָ וְיֹאמְרוּ לָךְRemember the days of old, understand (and build) the years from generation to generation; ask your father and he will tell you, your elder and he will say to you (Devarim 32:7).

לזכר נשמת הקדושים והטהורים שמסרו נפשם על קדושת הארץ ועל קידוש השם.  יהי זכרם ברוך,


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