Remembering Amalek

Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance, falls immediately prior to Purim. The Amalekites mentioned in the Torah portion read on this Shabbat are traditionally taken to be the ancestors of Haman, the villain in the Purim tale. In Jewish tradition, the Amalekites are symbol of the evil that arises and must be fought in every generation.

Purim opens on a somber note. Haman is identified as the descendant of Amalek, whose people attacked Israel in the desert, the symbol of cruelty to the weak. Before celebrating the defeat of the wicked, one must remember that God (as well as God's people) has a war with the Amalekites and will not be at ease until the Amalekites are blotted out. Jews are pledged to work for the end of oppression of the weak everywhere; a temporary, partial victory should not blind one to the persistence of evil in the world.


On the Sabbath before Purim, the portion of the Torah dealing with Amalek is read. This day is called Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance. It is a special mitzvah [commandment] of the Torah to hear the reading and thus remember.

Zachor [remembrance] is a mitzvah that has made modern Jews uncomfortable. The natural desire to forget and be happy collides with the ongoing pain of memory and analysis.

Modern people who are future-oriented stress the need to forgive. They argue that there will be no reconciliation as long as the memories of the cruelties and atrocities of the past are preserved and thrown in the face of those involved. "Forget and forgive" becomes the slogan. This argument can even take the form of an attack on the victims for keeping the memory alive and many times We as Jews have been criticised for wanting to ensure that the Holocaust is taught is rememberered .

Avoiding Past Mistakes

The primary lesson of Parashat Zachor [the special section of the Torah read on that Shabbat] is that true reconciliation comes through repentance and remembrance. Repentance is the key to overcoming the evils of the past. When people recognize injustice they can correct the wrongdoing and the conditions that lead to it. In the 20th century, repentance has liberated many Christians from past stereotyping and hatred of Jews, thus beginning to transform Christianity into a gospel of love, which it seeks to be.

Remembrance is the key to preventing recurrence. Goaded by the memory of the failures of the 1930s, the indifference toward Jewish refugees, the American government in 1979 organized a worldwide absorption program for two million boat people. Goaded by memory, America's Jews and Israel responded to the crisis of Soviet Jewry and, belatedly, of Ethiopian Jewry. Some look at istrael today and see Amalek in the face of terrorists.

Naivete and amnesia always favor the aggressors, the Amalekites in particular. The Amalekites wanted to wipe out an entire people, memory and all; amnesia completes that undone job. Ingenuousness leads to lowering the guard, which encourages attempts at repetition.

One of the classic evasions undergirding naivete is the claim that Amalek is long since gone. That is of course not true. There are many people today – religious Muslims who are taught from a very young age that it is a commandment to kill Jews and we have seen many suicide attacks in Israel and around the world. Little excuse is needed to use violence against Jews and attacks have increased of late blaming Jews for reacting to the bombs sent into Israel every day by terrorists. World governments say make peace- don’t retaliate Jew and Palestinian can live together in two separate countries in peace. History does teach us different and you can only live in peace with someone that wants to be at peace with you. Otherwise it is foolhardy at the very least and frankly suicide. I used to believe that this were possible but all a 2 state solution would do is to make it easier for terrorists to bomb Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The recent elections in Israel have been criticized both because of the absolute system of proportional representation and the fact that the right have increased the number of seats through Avigdor Leiberman. This next government has probably the most onerous responsibility of any Israeli government in the past because of the overwhelming political pressure – in what circumstances if any can a Palestinian state be allowed – for how long should the Palestinians need to prove that they can be trusted and control their extremists. The mitzvah of Zachor is a stern reminder that Amalek lives and must be fought.

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