Zachor:Remember Not To Forget
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]
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,
obliterate the memory of
Amalek from beneath the sky;
[lo tishkach] do not
Much is striking here: Herein, five
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
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
'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
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..
We will revisit this distinction.
For a moment, let's move to our first question: Wherein lay Amalek's
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 emerges from Eisav - the
antithesis of Yaakov/Yisrael's. This is unsurprising - for Eisav's
rejects the birthright as it lacks worldly value.
- 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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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
Here we return to our dual zachor/al
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
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
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,
A Freileichen Purim and a Good Shabbos
 Alshich lists twenty
plus questions on the commandment.
 This indeed is the
explicit position of Minchas Chinuch and others.
 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).)
safek (Doubt); both (amalek and safek) possess the
same gematria (numeric equivalent value = 240);
 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.