Purim Sameach to everyone!
This week we read the regular parsha of the week which is the parsha of Tzav. In addition to the portion of the week, we read what is known as Parshat Zachor. The Torah twice instructs us to remember what Amalek did to us after leaving Egypt. The additional verses we read are from the book of Deuteronomy (Chapter 25:17-19). The words describe the attack on the Jews by Amalek after having fled from the land of Egypt.
“Remember what Amalek did to you, on the way when you were leaving Egypt; that he happened upon you on the way. And he struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear God.”
The connection between Amalek and Purim on a simple level is through the ancestry of Haman. Haman was known to be from the Aggagite family. The other biblical character from this same family was Agag, the King of Amalek who lived during the time of King Saul. King Saul was instructed by God to engage in a war with the nation of Amalek and to leave no survivors. The king had pity on Agag and kept him alive, thereby leaving us with descendants from his family. These descendants perpetuated the ways of evil of their ancestors.
However, the commandment to remember what Amalek did to the Jews needs to also be understood on a more sophisticated level. We are not just commanded to remember the attack itself, brutal as it was, but to also to have a “memory of Amalek.” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the German Scholar who is attributed with the founding of Modern Orthodox Judaism, explains our commandment to recall the event in a fascinating way. His basic idea is that the mitzvah to remember the attack of Amalek stems from the idea that Amalek was harmful to the Jewish people both on a physical level and a spiritual level. Hirsch explains that we cannot glorify the memory of Amalek; meaning that we are obligated never to view the power and cunning of Amalek as something to look up to or praise. If we become that society that strives to emulate those who continue to bring evil into the world through violence, then we are in fact hurting ourselves on a spiritual level. The commandment to remember Amalek is so that we do not become like them; we must never harbor an “inner Amalek”. This message is one that we cannot hear often enough. We need to be reminded and challenged that even as we are forced to battle our enemies both here and in Israel, we must never be consumed by hatred.
Another beautiful idea connected to the spiritual harm done by Amalek is brought by Rashi. According to Rashi, one way that we can interpret the actions of Amalek (“asher korcha baderech”/they struck you”) is to interpret the word “korcha” as coming from the root meaning cold or cool. Rashi suggests that Amalek actually “cooled off” the boiling waters of the Jews. Rabbi Isaac Hutner explains that what Rashi was saying was that the Jews were literally “on fire” after leaving Egypt. They were ecstatic and enthusiastic to be finally on the path to freedom. Amalek’s attack “cooled” off the excitement of Jews and left them weary and weak before getting to Mount Sinai. Amalek was dangerous not because of its military might, but also because it extinguished the excitement and spiritual fire of the Jewish nation.
The battle of Haman against the Jews of Shushan followed the same path as Amalek. Haman wanted to not only destroy us physically but also spiritually. We are commanded to remember so that we can never be complacent about the physical threats of those who wish to harm the Jewish nation. But we also must remember and continually ensure that our spirit, love and excitement for our heritage never diminishes, therein giving our enemies a victory over our souls.