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Shabbat Zachor

02/23/2018 11:12:50 AM


Rabbi Steven Suson

This Shabbat goes by a special name: Shabbat Zachor - the Sabbath of Remembrance. In addition to the regularly scheduled Torah portion of Tetzaveh in the book of Exodus, we take out an additional Torah and read a special selection from Parashat Ki Teitzei in the book of Deuteronomy. This special reading contains the commandment to "remember" what Amalek did to the Children of Israel as we travelled out of Egypt and journeyed through the desert. The Amalekites attacked our people, not head-on in conventional war, but from the rear. The immoral tactics employed by Amalek included picking off the stragglers, the slow and weak among our people rather than confronting the army that defended them. The Torah commands us never to forget this shameless slaughter of defenseless people in an act of brutality and cowardice. Moses reminds us that "there is a war against Amalek in every generation" (Ex. 17:16). In other words, for all time we are to remember that there are murderous people in the world who seek to indiscriminately attack defenseless people.

Why do we read this portion now, when we are not due to arrive at that section of the Torah for six months? There is no explicit commandment in the Torah to remember Amalek at any particular time, only to generally remember. So why was this particular time chosen to fulfill this Torah commandment?

Indeed, this is the most appropriate time of the year to read about our responsibility to remember the evil deeds of Amalek because the holiday of Purim is almost upon us. On Wednesday night and Thursday morning, we will read the Megillah which tells the story of the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people by the villain, Haman, an alleged descendent of Amalek. Haman's intent was to destroy the unarmed, defenseless Jewish people in his country.

Sadly, the Amalekite agenda did not stop with Haman. Just as the Torah predicted, in every generation evil forces have risen to destroy the Jewish people and that is why in every generation we must remain vigilant and not ignore the intentions of those who wish us harm. We don’t have to go back as far as the Nazis and the tragedy of the Holocaust to learn about evil. Groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS,  and even the government of Iran, which in words and actions threaten the State of Israel, Jewish people everywhere, and all societies that cherish freedom and democracy.

It is our duty to remember the deeds of those evil forces in days past, but also to combat modern issues of prejudice, discrimination and hate, which help motivate people to become radicalized. The commandments of Purim reflect this idea as we are required to foster love, caring and respect among mankind by offering tzedakah to the less fortunate and gifts of food (Mishloach Manot) to our neighbors. It is our hope that these acts and genuine feelings of love for all people promote the values of equality, acceptance and friendship in our communities and throughout the world.

This Purim, as we listen to the story of Esther we are reminded that there will always be those who seek to destroy us. The best way to keep them from spreading their hateful ideology is to embody the traditions of Purim among ourselves and in our communities: to consistently engage in charitable and merciful acts, to support and defend all peace-loving people of the world and "Lehagdil Torah V'yadir" to make glorify Torah values and make them great (Is. 42).

Shabbat Shalom,


Mon, May 27 2019 22 Iyyar 5779