The Shabbat before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of Remembrance. It is named after the commandment to always remember what Amalek did to us as we were coming out of Egypt – the word ‘zachor’ means to remember. Ironically, the commandment regarding Amalek is to erase the memory of this people, but at the same time we are commanded to remember.
Our history with Amalek goes back to biblical times when they attacked us as we came out of Egypt. It is not just the attack, it is that they targeted the part of the nation that is protected at the back: the women, the children, the elderly. The rules of warfare respected that conflict should remain between the strong and the armed. Amalek first attacked those that were vulnerable, they preyed on the ones ancient societies had agreed to protect. Amalek was a nation whose core rested on self-interest, brutality, and immorality – the epitome of evil.
The Torah commands us to remember that evil exists in the world and it will hunt. We consider Haman to be a descendant of Amalek, and we therefore read of them on this Shabbat, the Shabbat of Remembrance. But the commandment is to erase their memories from existence, so why do we do the opposite by naming a Shabbat after remembering them?
It is not history that we are directed to erase, it is the logical reconciliation of that history. The fact that hatred and evil of that kind can still gain supporters means it is somehow still making sense to someone. The commandment to continue to fight Amalek, by remembering them until they are forgotten, speaks to the goal of changing the cultural consciousness. We have not won against evil in the world so long as it still makes sense to some cultures.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of a time of redemption when nation would not raise sword against nation, and they would no longer study war. It is not that they would not feel the need to study warfare, it’s that war would no longer make sense to anyone.
We remember Amalek so we will recognize evil when we see it. It is the only war we are commanded to wage – fight evil until it’s very existence becomes an anomaly.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.