This Shabbat’s D’var Torah was given by Rabbi Carl
Shabbat Zachor is the second of four special Shabbatot before Passover. It is strategically placed just before Purim so that we remember what Israel’s archenemy Amalek did to us on our way from Egypt. They attacked us by surprise, “when we were famished and weary, and cut down all of the stragglers in the rear” (Maftir portion, Deuteronomy 25:18). According to tradition, Haman is descended from the tribe of Amalek.
Why single out this attack when it was only one of many on the fledgling people of Israel, fresh from slavery? The reason is the unique cruelty of the assault. It was carried out when we were most vulnerable by concentrating on the very young, the very old and the sick who could not keep up.
The other unique aspect of Amalek’s attack, besides the toll in the number of lives taken is the toll the onslaught took on Israel’s spirit. The Midrash as presented in the Etz Haim Humash by Rabbi Harold Kushner plays on the Hebrew word “Korcha” which relates to the word “cold” at the beginning of 25:18. Says Kushner, “The Israelites, leaving Egypt on the way to Sinai had been confident and enthusiastic. The real sin of Amalek was that he robbed them of their idealism and energy, teaching them that the world could be an unreliable and dangerous place (p. 1136).”
We today know that the world is both filled with danger and unpredictable. For us in the US in particular it is the continuous onslaught of anti-semitism with bomb threats to JCC’s and vandalism of cemeteries. Here in the UK it is a record 1309 anti-Semitic incidents in the last year. While the Amalekites robbed us of our self-confidence in a single event, we are experiencing a continuous battering which wears us down daily. We can fall prey to a loss of self-confidence or worse the constant exposure to bad news can actually numb us (make us “cold”) so that we don’t feel anything or do anything to combat all of the threats.
This slow burn makes the challenge to our spirits more daunting, the vigilance more critical, the resilience more necessary, and the action more urgent. On this Shabbat of Remembrance- Shabbat Zachor- we must remember that those who came before us survived the worst and so can we- so must we!