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Zachor:Remember Not To Forget  
 

  ארץ אל תכסי דמם

 

Ours is a nation of memory ; a dominant notion of pre-Purim week. Consider Zachor - the classic reminder parsha that speaks of our paradoxical dual obligations to remember erase Amalek and its memory: [Devarim, 25:17-19]

[Zachor] Remember what Amalek perpetrated against you on the road when you were going out of Egypt. When they chanced upon you on the road ; they  struck down your appendage--- all the weak ones behind you--- and you were exhausted and wearied, and they had no fear of G-d. When Ad-noy, your G-d, has given you repose from all your enemies around, in the land that Ad-noy, your G-d, is giving you as territory to inherit, you shall obliterate the memory of Amalek from beneath the sky; [lo tishkach] do not forget.

 

Much is striking here: Herein, five notable inquiries[1]:

1. Why is this enemy (Amalek) different from all others?

2. If we must destroy then, of what purpose is memory?

3. Why the preoccupation with our temporal and ambiguous location (being "on the road")?

4. If we are to obliterate them, then is there another option than from "underneath the heavens" ?

5. Why the apparent redundant terminology - zachor (remember) and lo tishkach (do not forget).

 

Our final question (5) is not halachic. The Torah couches obligations in classic double [positive-negative] formulation. [Consider: a. Remember the Shabbos, nor may you violate it. B. Place a parapet around your house and do not place blood in your home. c. Return the lost object and do not hide from your obligation of return.]  Similarly, zachor..al tishkach may be rendered "Remember what Amalek did and do not forget them". Indeed, Rambam, Chinuch, and Semag all classify the Amalek memory imperative as distinct positive and negative obligations. Nevertheless, we seek philosophical clarity and thus question the significance and nature of this two pronged obligation.

 

With a simple Talmudic piece we commence:

'Remember' [zachor]- Am I to say, this means only with the mind? When the text says, "you shall not forget", the injunction against mental forgetfulness is already given. What then does 'remember' mean? This must mean, by utterance. [Megillah 18a]:

 

In other words, zachor-remember is the obligation to articulate while lo tishkach-do no forget encompasses mindful memory. Thought without articulation is not sufficient to fulfill the positive mitzvah of remembering Amalek, but would qualify as a fulfillment of the negative commandment[2]..

 

We will revisit this distinction. For a moment, let's move to our first question: Wherein lay Amalek's uniqueness?

 

A brief exploration of Amaleki roots yields a clue. First, the text: [Bereishis, 36:12]

And Timna was a concubine to Eliphaz, son of Esau, and she bore to Eliphaz, Amalek.

 

Amalek emerges from Eisav - the antithesis of Yaakov/Yisrael's. This is unsurprising - for Eisav's rejects the birthright as it lacks worldly value.[3] - and Eisav has no need for ambiguous spirituality. But Eisav alone does not create Amalek. Eisav's son Eliphaz marries Timna - and together they sire Amalek. Who was this Amaleki matriarch ? A surprising Talmudic vignette lends clarity and confusion:

And Lotan's sister was Timna? - Timna was a royal princess .. Desiring to become a convert, she went to Avraham, Yitzchokl and Yaakov, but they did not accept her. So she went and became a concubine to Eliphaz the son of Eisav, saying, 'I would rather be a servant to this people than a mistress of another nation.' From her Amalek was descended who afflicted Israel. (Sanhedrin 99b)

 

Timna sought purpose, and is rejected by Avraham. She opts for 2nd best, marries Eliphaz and together they have Amalek. Timna is a force to reckon with. She brings great passion and purpose to her family.

 

Amalek and Yisdrael may be very different - but it is fascinating to consider the ties that bind:

When he (Bilaam) looked on Amalek, .. and said, Amalek was the first of the nations; [Bamidbar, 25:20] 

Israel is holy to the Lord, and the first fruits of His produce; [Yirmiyahu, 2:3]

 

Both are a nation of firsts (reishis) - as in primary!

 

And both possess mission and engage in sacrifice to achieve their goal. Rashi's famous midrash declares:  

They cooled you, moderated you to tepidness from seething heat. For all the nations were afraid of waging war against you, until they commenced, preparing the way for others. This is compared with a boiling bath into which no creature could enter. One villain came and leaped into it. Although he was scalded, he cooled it for the others.

 

But what exactly is Amalek's mission? Herein, a snapshot:

a. Rabbinic literature equates Amalek with yetzer hara and the primordial serpent, the nachash.

b. That which prompts the Amalek reminder davka before Purim, is their belief in randomness, mikreh - a word that binds Haman to Amalek. [Esther, 4:7]

And Mordecai told him of all that had happened to him [karahu]. He said to Hatach: ' Go and say to her: "The descendant of karahu has come upon you,"'

 

Amalek's raison d'etre then, is to wreak havoc upon the faithful[4]. Their weltanschauung is the random world, perceiving history as a capricious set of events without ultimate rhyme. An arbitrary world renders reflection, spirituality, morality and all things good as ultimately meaningless [even as they may possess some pragmatic social contract function].

 

A final point: Amalek catches us on the road, [answer to question 3] a trivial statement - unless one considers that it is the road to Sinai! That first epic battle thus portends future encounters

Amalek seeks to waylay us. At that crossroad lies the nexus between Amalek and Yisrael - because the Jew perceives this world as pregnant with meaning and as a pathway to greatness whilst Amalek sees the now as the home sweet home. Amalek's antipathy for us is because we transform their homes into our roads - a spiritual eminent domain without compensation!

 

Amalek the concept certainly lives on [answer to question 2] - for who is not plagued at times with questions/doubts?

 

Here we return to our dual zachor/al tishkach bligation:

A friend calls. Enmeshed in an unbelievably painful personal reevaluation of his path, he is now on the mend. We speak tachlis! [briefly and sincerely]; he formulates a gem: "The source of all my problems (and there were many) began when I distanced myself from God. When I was down, I always knew God was in my life. Then I felt in control, I told God: I'll take over now. That was the moment it all began to slip away."

 

Zachor, a verbal repudiation of Amalek requires clarity. During those pristine moments, when doubt dare not lurk, dispelling Amalek seems so easy. When God feels close, it is hard to imagine any room for Amalek.

 

Amalek however is patient; it preys on the weak ones [or the weak moments] and then pounces. When clarity is lost and pristine becomes a puzzle the Torah mandates lo tishkach[5]. Hold on. You may not be able to see Hashem and articulate clarity; He might seem very distant, but do not shut Him out - remember the clarity you once had and will certainly regain. [answer to question 5]

As we move on to Megillat Esther (the revelation of the hidden), may the inner Amalek, the looming doubts that may plague us mitachas hashamayim, [answer to question 4] in our this-worldly existence of God's concealment, be defeated!


A Freileichen Purim and a Good Shabbos
 

[1] Alshich lists twenty plus questions on the commandment.

[2] This indeed is the explicit position of Minchas Chinuch and others.

[3] Cf. midrash rabah: "and Eisav said: behold, I am at the point to die, etc. (ib. 32). resh lakish said: he began to revile and blaspheme: it is not written, ' what is [the birthright] to me, but, what is this to me-zeh (this teaches that he denied him of whom it is written, this is my god-zeh keili (ex. xv, 2).)

[4]Amalek-world champions safek (Doubt); both (amalek and safek) possess the same gematria (numeric equivalent value = 240);

[5] Perhaps one can even posit that one must engage in zachor to the point that is lo tishkach, i.e. when one is in clarity mode, then embed the emunah so deeply so that one will ultimately not forget even in times of concealment.


 
   
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