Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, as you were leaving Egypt; that he happened upon you on the way, and attacked from behind the weakest among you who straggled behind, when you were tired and weary, and he did not fear God. And as the Eternal, your God, gives you rest from all your enemies surrounding you, in the land that the Eternal your God gives you as an inheritanceerase all remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Devarim 25:17-19) 

When we look at Purim and the events of Megillat Esther superficially, the fact that we read the above passages from the Torah on the Shabbat before Purim makes perfect sense. Haman was a descendant of Agag, an Amalekite king. Like his ancestors, Haman was filled with hatred of the Jewish people, and was resolved to destroy us. Purim is the time when we celebrate the greatest failure of Amalek: the fact that we survive. 

When we remember that Amalek is singled out among all the ancient nations with a commandment from the Torah to wipe them out—to commit genocide against them—our enjoyment of the holiday of Purim may be blunted. That feeling of doubt about Purim may be exacerbated when we read the ninth chapter of the Megillah in which the Jews gather to slay hundreds of their enemies within the Persian Empire, and this is among the things that Jews are to celebrate to this day.  

To wholeheartedly enjoy Purim with our distaste for bloodshed intact (no morality is possible without a distaste for bloodshed!), we need to understand what the mitzvah to destroy Amalek is today. First of all, there is unanimous agreement among the Rabbis that since Sancherib’s conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel, and all nations conquered by the Assyrian armies were scattered throughout their empire, no one knows who is of Amalekite descent. It is impossible to carry out the mitzvah to destroy Amalek in the literal sense of killing human beings.  

The Sfat Emet gives us an answer that involves changing ourselves. There is a word in the verses of Deuteronomy quoted above that I translated as “happened upon.” The Hebrew word is karcha. Some rabbis have interpreted this word as “chilled,” as in the Hebrew word “kar,” “cold.” The Amalekites “chilled” our zeal to serve God. The Sfat Emet interprets the word karcha in terms of the word mikreh, “happenstance.” He tells us that when we live our lives with focus, with attention, with awareness, we are fighting Amalek. Amalek is mindless living. Lack of spiritual awareness, lack of attention to our situation, lack of attention to our actions and their consequences.  

This commandment to fight Amalek by being conscious and aware is especially important to keep in mind on Purim, when one of the practices is drinking wine! Celebrate Purim wholeheartedly, celebrate raucously. Let Purim be a day when even the adults are encouraged to be playful; to wear costumes and to drink. Just let the Sfat Emet’s teaching that Purim is also about attention and awareness let us be in control of our actions while playfully celebrating. 

Shabbat shalom, and Purim Sameach! 

Comments are closed.


Visit the
Shaarey Tphiloh Facebook Page

ST Facebook image link

Upcoming Events