Shabbat Zachor: “The Amalek in You”
- The Shabbat before Purim is a very important one. It allows us to fulfill the unique mitzvah, timcheh et zecher Amalek – “you shall
blot out the memory of Amalek.” The Torah tells us Amalek attacked the Israelites
“when they were faint and weary; and he feared not God.” He is considered the ancestor of Haman and thus
the connection to Purim.
Amalek, refers not just to the
tribe of the Amalekites and their descendants like Haman about whom we’ll read
on Purim. Amalek exists in all those who
act without respect for God and God’s people and God’s will.
While we don’t like to think of
it this way, the spirit of Amalek can even infect us, God forbid, Jews, who should
be the very people who know best to fear the influence of Amalek!
How is this? The Seer of Lublin, a Hasidic rabbi, points
out the following. He says, “A person
can be faint and weary because of the different afflictions and fasts he
imposes upon himself, and nevertheless not fear God.”
What we must remember, (when we
remember to blot out Amalek), is exactly this.
We must always have respect for
God and God’s will. And never become so
sure of ourselves that we know the answers behind what God wants. We must always be a little humble and a
little careful, and not let ourselves become too impressed with our own
As the rabbis point out, Im lamadta Torah harbeh, al tachazek tovah
l’atzmecha, ki l’chach notzarta. “If
you’ve learned much Torah, don’t claim credit for yourself, because you were
created for this purpose.”
Constantly search yourself and
your actions so that you will be able to blot out any trace of Amalek’s nature
within yourself and be wholly dedicated to the service of God.
Good civic-minded citizens, those
who think about the community and not just themselves, who try to marry past, present,
and future considerations together, who have big dreams but don’t allow them to
be the enemies of what is realistic to accomplish, – our country, our community,
our congregation, could use more people like that.
And people like this are who our parshah,
Mishpatim, has in mind when it says (Exodus 22:27): Elohim
lo t’kalel v’nasi v’amcha lo ta-or.
“You shall not revile a Judge, nor shall you curse a leader among your
How does this apply? Let us take it apart and see.
Last week we read the Ten Commandments,
this week we encounter what could be called the “civil laws” of the Torah – yet
I contend that it is in our civil laws that we measure just how much God’s presence
is reflected in our lives because such laws govern how we treat each other and,
how we treat the least powerful among us.
Caring for others – their
physical, educational, emotional and spiritual needs – that is what this whole
portion is about – how to do that properly.
This rule then, about not cursing
or reviling those who take on active roles in the community (and let us recall
that most religious leaders in the Judaism of old were professionals in some
other field and “volunteered” for their religious duties) is an extra reminder
that the one serving the community is at particular risk for attack by others,
and so the comment here is an extra warning – don’t curse anyone, especially
those who get involved. I believe this is
a danger in the America of today in which we are so polarized, good-hearted people
may be wary to get involved and that is a sad thing to be sure.
What’s more, as some of you may have
noticed about this verse, it says, Elohim
lo t’kalel, literally it, “God… you shall not curse…” However, in this case, as happens elsewhere,
we Jews read it not referring to God, but human judges (for example Rashi, who says,
l’kil’lat dayan) – who are sometimes
called by the same word.
Thus, our final lesson is the
most important – the one who gets involved, the leader, the judge, the
volunteer, shares a role – as our verse suggests, with God. When you volunteer, get involved, do
something for others in the country, community or congregation, then you are
acting as God’s agent in the world – causing miracles and bringing God’s will
Someone shared with me a quote
attributed to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
It touches on what we are discussing and with it I’d like to close: “If
you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a
piece of the world that God has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and how
ugly it is, then it is yourself that needs repair.”