by Ari Hart
Parashat Zachor is a challenge for many modern readers. What does it mean to remember an event that happened thousands of years ago? Who or what is Amalek today? What do we do with verses from the Torah which appear to be an exhortation to genocide?
Scholars have offered many interpretations, ranging from national-political to the personal-psychological. An interpretation I find compelling is Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s. He wrote that Amalek is the force "which only finds its strength in the might of its sword and its love of glory in treading down all unprepared weaker ones.” Amalek is the love of power, of oppression, and violence for their own sakes. And why must we remember Amalek? So we do not become like it.
But how do we remember? Does reading a few pesukim in shul really do the job? Perhaps looking at the verses in a broader context might help us understand the call to zachor. remememrance.
The verses immediately preceding parashat Zachor: (Deutoronomy 25:15) are:
A perfect and honest measure you shall have, that your days may be lengthened on the land which the Lord, your God gives you. For an abomination of the Lord your God are all who do this, all who act corruptly.
And the verses after the remembrance of Amalek describe the how to do the offering of bikkurim, first fruits, to God (Deutoronomy 26:1) "My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt… But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to God… and God heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt... and brought us to this place and gave us this land... and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, God, have given me... Then you and the Levites and the strangers residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.”
What precedes and follows the commandment to remember the memory of Amalek are clear calls to:
1. Establish justice by acting honestly and justly in our most mundane affairs
2. Never exploit others economically
3. Remember our humble beginnings
4. Be grateful for what we have
5. Include those who are less fortunate in our communities.
That's the prescription for the defeat of Amalek. The Baal Shem Tov writes that the threat from Amalek is spiritual, and it comes from within. The verses before and after the story of Amalek are the Torah's tools to remind ourselves to never turn into our own worst enemy.