Parshat Zachor / Rabbi’s Note & Sharon Dashow’s Speech (03/12/22)
Purim approaches (starting Wednesday night), and joy, laughter, comradery, charity, and love are in the air. Purim is perhaps, my favorite holiday, for it represents to me the relationship with our everyday God: hidden miracles. Megillat Esther is all about synchronicity: the right people, being at the right place at the right time. That’s how I see God’s hand in my life. In contrast, the big three holidays: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, are about the revealed, earth-shattering miracles. While those still happen occasionally, in my day-to-day life, I love knowing God has my back. Random events and meetings then take on extra significance; perhaps they are also divinely orchestrated.
One small instance of well-timed help I received early in the week was when Sharon Dashow offered to speak this Shabbat. As my father-in-law passed away on Friday, I was able to focus on my wife and family and not on my speech; I am thankful.
With joy, I present to you the wise insights Sharon shared with us on Shabbat morning.
Today is Shabbat Zachor, as it is the Shabbat before Purim. Zachor, in Hebrew, means: Remember! It’s named from the passage in Deuteronomy where we are commanded to remember how the nation of Amalek murderously blindsided us as we were fleeing Egypt. We are commanded to avenge that attack and destroy Amalek. It is fitting to read before Purim as Haman, the main antagonist of the Purim story is a descendant of Amalek.
As I review this command, two things strike me. The first is the problem that we should wipe out an entire nation. Perhaps that was not meant literally. At least, I hope that is the case. The second point, the one I really want to address, is why should we be tasked with that obligation? Let G-d take care of Amalek.
This must be teaching us that we are not supposed to sit back and have G-d do everything for us. If that is the case, what is free will? That aphorism that G-d helps those who help themselves applies here. Remembering, but letting things come as they may is not enough. There are lots of things we should remember. But if all we do is remember and not take action, what is the point of remembering? For instance, when we talk about the Holocaust, we all say we must not forget. But that is not the end of our obligation. A phrase we always use is Never Again. But just saying that does not mean anything. We have to do what is in our power to ensure that never again is a reality.
I think our obligation to remember and take action goes deeper than that. We need to remember how we were treated so that we make sure not to treat others that way and, just as importantly, that we take action to combat injustice where we see it. Of course, one can easily relate this to the tragic events happening in Ukraine. We remember how others did not help us during the holocaust, and we resolve to learn from that and help those in Ukraine. Conversely, we remember those who helped us during the Holocaust, and we commit to take similar actions in helping others.
Remembering is not just related to events like the Holocaust. Our memory is one of our most powerful tools. How we use it defines who we are and what we can accomplish. Ironically, in 2020, Shabbat Zachor was either the last or next to last Shabbat before we shut down due to COVID. On that Shabbat, Michael and I hosted a Kiddush in commemoration of how our family persevered through a precarious episode in our lives a number of years ago. We could have focused on the bad, but instead, we chose to be thankful for overcoming the challenge. And that is important, because how we remember consequential moments and the spin we put on them, be it positive or negative, can impact us in many ways.
So to with the Pandemic, we can choose to remember the hardships and deprivations or we can take pride in our innovations and accomplishments. The way we remember will affect us going forward.
While I’m talking about remembering, I remember what I said at the beginning – the implication that we are supposed to destroy an entire people is something that I cannot wrap my head around. So let me offer a different interpretation. Maybe what was meant was not that we should obliterate Amalek but that we have a continuing obligation to obliterate the evil actions of Amalek. We have to ensure that we do not take similar actions, and that we do what is necessary to stop others from taking those actions. The Torah is instructing us to remember-what exactly we choose to remember is the key.