Mar 09 2017 Dvar Torah

Rabbi Cohon 270x306
Rabbi Samuel Cohon

Memory and Redemption

This week we observe Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance in Jewish tradition. By custom, after reading our weekly Torah portion of Tetzaveh from Exodus we add a short section of text that recalls the attack by the enemy nation Amalek on our Israelite stragglers as we escaped Egypt during the Exodus. This vicious and cowardly attack is memorialized each year on the Shabbat prior to Purim. The short maftir section both begins and ends with words of memory: Zachor et asher asa lecha Amalek, it begins, “Remember what Amalek did to you,” and it concludes with the powerful statement timcheh et zecher Amalek mitachat Hashamayim; al tishkach, “Obliterate the memory of Amalek under heaven; don’t forget!”

We always read this section the week before the holiday of Purim, which commemorates the great salvation of the Jews of Iran in Mordechai and Esther’s time, over 2400 years ago, because Haman, the villain of the Purim story, is supposed to be a descendant of the Amalekites. In some idiosyncratic Jewish traditions, all deep enemies of Judaism and Jews are linked to Amalek and Haman, including Torquemada and even Hitler—who actually outlawed Purim in Nazi Germany. In some interpretations the late unlamented Saddam Hussein—who lost the 1st Gulf War on Purim 1991, and saw the 2nd Gulf War that toppled him begin on Purim in 2003—and Iran’s anti-Semitic mullah leader, Ayatollah Khameini, are also descendants of Haman, and thus Amalek. The beat goes on…