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Parshat Zachor

Parshat Zachor brings an essential and integral idea to our immediate consciousness: evil truly exists.

We are tremendously tempted in our society to deny this, in our world where we play “let’s get along” we demonstrate great patience to allow a great wealth of views, many of which we may dislike or disagree with.

The power of a democracy is that people with highly polarized and entirely differing world views can (theoretically) live side by side without injuring each other physically, legally or indeed, emotionally.

It has brought us many wonderful things, the experience of this plurality has allowed us to taste foods from around the globe (even when including our dietary restrictions) as well as art, literature, music and other important forms of cultural expression. With such a plethora of cultures, identities, religions and worldviews must come great tolerance and mutual respect for our shared humanity.

The problem, of course, is that not everyone shares this ideal, and some religions and cultures feel exactly the opposite: that they alone must dominate, convert and control everything under the banner of a single flag or perspective. They are prepared to kill, deceive and perform unspeakable horrors to achieve their goals of domination.

As Jews our collective history speaks of terrible interaction with a variety of different dominating groups from Religious, political and nationalistic viewpoints that also sought to subjugate, control and destroy those who did not adhere to their version of truth.

On Parshat Zachor, we remember Amalek a nation drawn from the grandson of Esau[1] who struck the Children of Israel as they were recovering from the experience of leaving Egypt, the Midrash shares an allegory about the nation[2]:

“To what is the incident (of Amalek) comparable? To a tub of boiling water which no living creature was able to enter. Along came one evil person and jumped into it, although he was severely burned, he cooled it for the others.

So, too, when Israel came out of Egypt, and Hashem split the sea before them and drowned the Egyptians within it, the fear of them fell upon all the nations. But when Amalek came and challenged them, although he received his payment from them, he cooled the awe of the nations of the world for them.”

The central narrative of a powerful hatred and conflict between Haman and Mordechai which led to the Purim miracle, was rooted in that which had occurred many centuries earlier:

Haman proudly traced his descent to Agag, King of Amalek[3]. Mordechai and Esther were of the royal family of Shaul, the first Messianic King of Israel.

When the Jews left Egypt, Amalek was the first nation to attack them. As a result of this the Jews were commanded[4] “When G‑d will relieve you of all your enemies... blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”

The Torah understands that the mechanism that leads to the ability to “blot out the memory” of Amalek is to actively remember them: We cannot forget the past, we can however learn from it.

In much the same way that we strive to educate other about the horrors and inhumanity of the Holocaust, because of its all too human cost and, because people are quick to purposely “forget” that which is uncomfortable:

We would much rather speak of nice things, the weather and various “how do you do’s?” – the conversations that need to happen deal with the dire consequences of violence, poverty and selfishness.

We would prefer to live in a world where our conversion of Evil is reduced to art: to horror movies and literature rather than the brutal reality that occurs in multiple countries including on our very doorstep.

Since the attacks of October 7th it has returned in the mind of every Jew that evil truly exists, that brutal attack on kibbutzim, small villages and military outposts reminded us that there are those who hate because of who we are and what we believe, those prepared to commit the worst atrocities imaginable.

But the reading of Parshat Zachor is immediately followed by the celebration of the festival of Purim – as much as we believe evil exists, we must also believe that good exists as well: we saw in a mere few hours our entire people mobilize, we saw families rehoused with loving strangers, restaurants flipped into kitchens to feed soldiers and those fleeing areas of heavy bombardment, the hospital system was forced to create appointment cards because so many volunteers came to donate blood that they were overwhelmed. Synagogues suddenly became full of those saying Tehillim and tying Tzitzit, across the world communities stood and are still standing together in prayer and incredible acts of togetherness and unison.

As much as we member Amalek and the truth of evil we remember that Hashem in His kindness saves us, as the Haggadah of Pesach relates to us: “in every generation they rise up to annihilate us, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hand” – We believe in the reality of evil and that the power of good can prevail, that light can conquer darkness and that ultimately we will reach a place of peace for all mankind.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2024 ©


[1] Bereshit/Genisis: 36:12 – See Rashi there.

[2] Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Teitzei: 9

[3] Targum Sheni on Esther 3:1.

[4] Deuteronomy/Devarim 25:19.

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