Shabbat Zachor (Feb. 19/20)

As the Torah Turns

Rabbi Lader’s Weekly D’var Torah

Shabbat Zachor – Deuteronomy 25:17-19
(Feb. 19/20)

This Shabbat, the Shabbat before Purim, is called Shabbat Zachor (Sabbath [of] remembrance שבת זכור).  Along with the weekly portion, we read Deuteronomy 25:17-19, which describes the attack by Amalek as we left Egypt and includes a commandment to remember this attack  There is a tradition from the Talmud that Haman, the antagonist of the Purim story, was descended from Amalek, and so we read these verses right before Purim: Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt. How, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! 

Interestingly, we called upon to remember what Amalek did, then when we are brought to safety we blot out his memory, and don’t forget!  All at the same time??? Or… is this a progression?

 And this sounds pretty serious, yet isn’t Purim all fun and games? Perhaps there is a serous side. Rabbi Laura Geller, rabbi emerita of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, California, teaches that: Remember and blot out — this is a strategy for healing from abuse. We learn from psychologists that victims of abuse need to first recover their memories of victimization, but at some point in the healing process they need to blot out the power those memories have to control their lives.   Recover the memories — then blot out their power to have control over our lives. The command was never to blot out Amalek — just his memory. The command is to take rage and turn it to healing. The command is to blot out the memory of Amalek and therefore to blot out of ourselves the tendency to do to others what others have done to us. To blot out of ourselves the tendency to do to others what others have done to us.

Purim isn’t really “just a children’s holiday.” No, quite the contrary; it is the most grown up of all of our holidays because it forces us to look at our dark side — the side that has been hurt, the side that is afraid, the side that wants to take revenge against those who have hurt us. Purim tells us that it is OK to have those feelings; to tell the story, even to celebrate the fantasy. But it reminds us not to act on the feelings of revenge. Sadly, there really are people in the world who will hurt other people. The mitzvah is to blot out the power they have to threaten the world. The mitzvah is not to take revenge, not to become what they were/are, not to kill innocent people.  The mitzvah is to do what we can to blot out the power of those who can do evil without letting the memory of our hurt lead us into easy answers. At the end of the public reading of the story of Esther we say a blessing: “Blessed are you, God, who takes up our grievance, judges our claim and avenges the wrongs against us. You bring retribution on our enemies and vengeance on our foes.” This blessing reminds us, in very clear and direct terms, that vengeance should never be in our hands, but only in the hands of God. Yes, we need to remember, and… we also need to blot out the power of the memory. We need to free ourselves from despair and darkness, and we need to find a way to bring “light with joy and gladness and honor” (Esther 8:16) to everyone in the world.    Rabbi Geller’s full article:

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