Over the past weeks and months, the Jewish community here in America has been threatened, and places of worship and burial have been vandalized. We have been made to fear for the safety of our property and our businesses. Threats to our community centers, schools and individuals have made us fear for our lives and the lives of our friends and family. I remember when my high school received bomb threats years ago and we had to evacuate the building. I remember thinking that it must be a prank to get out of a test or something. This has to be some kind of joke. Today, the threat we are facing is certainly not a joke.
This week, we read from Parshat Tetzaveh and we also read a special Maftir called Parshat Zachor (Deut. 25:17-19--this is where we are commanded to remember the evil that the nation of Amalek brought upon us and to wipe their memory from the earth). The opening line of the Parsha reads “You shall command the Israelites to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the light, so that a lamp may be set up to burn regularly/וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד (Ex. 27:20).” When this word command/tzav/צו comes up later in the Torah (Lev. 6:2), Rashi brings the midrash from the Sifra that teaches that this word, tzav/צו, always alludes to urgency.
The Sfas Emes teaches that every action that we do with urgency has permanency. This is the meaning of “you shall command/ואתה תצוה”, that the attribute of urgency should be brought into the hearts of the People of Israel. He further teaches that a constant inclination towards urgent action brings a person to piety. Amalek tried to take away our sense of urgency, as it is written “The Israelites urgently went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle/וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם מזרזין (Tar. Onkelos Ex. 13:18).” But, before we could get to where we wanted to go, we were terrorized. “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way, when you were faint and weary, and struck down all who lagged behind you; he did not fear God/זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם. אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ, וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל-הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱלֹהִים (Deut: 25:17-18).” The quality of memory, states the Sfas Emes, is that it gets powerfully rooted inside a person at the core of their being, in a place where there is no forgetting. We remember Amalek on Shabbat because they are the two poles from which memory drives our lives. We remember Shabbat (זכור את יום השבת) and that gives us a positive vision of what the word can be. It gives us the tools to deal properly with the memory of Amalek.
Recently there have been calls to remain quiet about the hatred that has been directed at our people. There is a fear that if exposed, evil will gain strength and momentum. I challenge us to reconsider this position as a community. Our people’s urgent strides towards Torah and justice have been at the forefront of communal, national and global progress. Evil will not go away on its own. This Shabbat and moving forward, it is upon us to grab onto the torch of Torah and shine our light on the darkness. That is the only way to erase the memory of Amalek, and pave the way for a bright future.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.