Remember what Amalek did to you as you left Egypt: that they met you on the way, and attacked all of the weakest among you who lagged behind, when you were tired and weary, and he had no fear of God. And so, when you come to the land that the Eternal, your God gives you a possession and an inheritance, wipe out every sign of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget. (Deut. 25:17-19)

This Shabbat is called “Shabbat Zachor,” the “remember!” Shabbat. We are all obligated to hear these verses read in the synagogue on the Shabbat before Purim. The rabbis tell us (Megillah 18a) that the obligation to remember is both in the heart and verbal. The Talmud there also teaches us that the word “remember” can often mean “record in writing.” Therefore, the halachah brought by the Mishnah Brurah (Orach Chayim 685:1, SK 7) is that someone in the congregation must read aloud from the Torah scroll with the intention of allowing everyone present to fulfill their obligation to remember what Amalek did to us.

Amalek was the first nation to attack Israel after they emerged from Egypt as a free people. They are seen by the tradition as the progenitors of anti-Semitism. While their own attacks on Israel have all failed, they are seen as having opened the door to others. The rabbis describe Israel as a boiling tub, and Amalek as someone who enters that tub without fear. Even though Amalek himself gets burned, his dipping in the water cools it enough to allow others to follow.

We must remember, in every generation, what violence has been committed against our people. This remembrance can either make us see enemies in every corner, or it can help us remember what it looks like so that we can be ready to defend against it, not only when it is directed at us, but at anyone else.

It is also an illustration of what we want to avoid. Its polar opposite must be what we prize. If Amalek are those who prey upon the week, we defend the weak. If Amalek do not fear God, if they have no sense of humility or purpose beyond themselves, then we do. If they are killers, then we must be those who love life.

Shabbat Shalom, and Purim Sameach!

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