“Mitzva 189: We are commanded to remember what Amalek has done to us, he coming first to harm us. To hate him at all times, and to awaken people with words to do battle against him, and to encourage the nation to hate him, so that this Mitzva not be forgotten, nor should the hatred of him weaken, or be lost from the people with the passage of time….” (Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos)
The Rambam implies, and most Rishonim concur, that the Mitzva to remember the evil of Amalek is a constant one, and not limited to the week before Purim. If so, we need to understand why the reading of Parshas Zachor is traditionally observed on this particular Shabbos, and not at any other time.
Furthermore, on Purim day, in addition to the Megilla, we read Parshas “VaYavo Amalek”, the battle of Yehoshua recorded in Parshas B’Shalach. Why does this alone not satisfy the requirement of Zachor? (see Mishna Berura 685:16)
In our shiur this week, we will answer these questions, and explain, as well, the significance of memory.
A person remembers incidents or ideas that stand out in his mind, occasions that are special and new, one of a kind. All others are ‘Shachiach’ – commonplace events that man finds easy to ‘Shocheach’ – forget.
Man’s awareness of life’s significance, and of the important role he plays in the unfolding of the Divine plan gives him a heightened sense of attentiveness, and the sensitivity to discern even the smallest details of G-d’s will.
It is here that Amalek attacks – “Asher Karcha BaDerech – who happens upon you on the way.” To the nation of Amalek, life is just a coincidence, all a matter of chance. With every day the same, they deny the design of creation, numbed into forgetfulness by the dulling uniformity of a material existence.
And here we fight back – we always remember.
This Mitzva of Zachor does not stand on its own, for as the Rambam clearly states, its function is to ready the nation for battle. It is with the memory of evil that we prepare for war, erasing any reminder of Amalek and his descendants.
As any Milchemes Mitzva, the fulfillment of Zachor is a public responsibility, and therefore Parshas Zachor is read aloud by the congregation. This idea of involving all Klal Yisrael in the Mitzva of Zachor is not mentioned in Parshas B’Shalach, and for this reason, one cannot fulfill his requirement by reading that Parsha. Not only are we obliged to remember his deeds, but we must attach this memory to the destruction of everything he stands for, and strengthen our commitment to the unified vision of our nation.
It is this consistent reminder that erases Amalek from the face of the earth.
“The B’nai Yisrael said to him: ‘Moshe Rabbeinu; one verse says “Zachor Mah SheAsah Lecha Amalek”, while another verse says “Zachor Es Yom HaShabbos LeKadsho”. How can we fulfill both? This is Zachor while this is Zachor!”
“Said Moshe to them: A cup of spiced wine cannot be compared to a cup of vinegar…this is Zachor to guard and sanctify the day of Shabbos….and this is Zachor to destroy and wipe out all the descendants of Amalek….” (Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer, Ch. 44)
This discussion is quite puzzling. The B’nai Yisrael sense a contradiction between the requirement to remember the deeds of Amalek and the obligation to sanctify the Shabbos. Why should these two Mitzvos conflict?
“…All those who recite Havdala over wine on Motzaei Shabbos will merit to have sons…” (Shavuos 18b)
The Maharal explains Havdala as the process of distinguishing between Kodesh and Chol, understanding the difference between the secular pursuits of a material world and the sanctity of a higher realm.
It is the role of a man to be Michadesh, to actively create and pursue the revelation of a different world (it is for this reason that man may marry two women, but not vice-versa, he must stand alone). While a man provides the initial core of individual rejuvenation and rebirth, a woman is the one who organizes and arranges the proper order of life.
Man makes distinctions, while women put things in place.
The Zachor remembers.
He who makes Havdala properly, will have a son.
In a world that tries to make us forget, we have no choice but to make Havdala, separating the good from evil, Shabbos from the workday week, and this world from the next.
This is the response of Moshe: remembering the Shabbos is the destruction of Amalek, these are two sides of the same coin.
Klal Yisrael perceives this world as a temporary station, a transit stop on the road to an eternal destination. The world has a beginning, an origin of meaning and direction, and it exists as a process, developing towards a meaningful end.
Shabbos is the goal of each week, and the ultimate evolution of all life, the sum total of all man’s deeds.
Amalek rejects this concept, clinging to he notion of a world with no direction, no beginning and no end. When the final Shabbos is revealed to the world, Amalek and his descendants will cease to exist, for in their haste to struggle against Israel, they have lost their place on the path of destiny.
Shabbos is the end, and therefore, the beginning. With this in mind, we greet the Shabbos each week – “Sof Ma’aseh B’Machshavah Techilah.”
Amalek has a different sort of beginning, and he stands in place, never to see the end – “Reishis Goyim Amalek – V’achariso L’Adi Oved.” Within him is the seed of all nations, and their crooked beginning dooms them to an ominous end.
Shabbos is the sum total of all life – the Klal upon which all else stands. The man who observes the Shabbos is considered to have heeded the entire Torah, for Shabbos incorporates all the rest. But Amalek amounts to nothing, he cannot count, for each day is divorced from all others. He stands up against the Shabbos, fighting to resist the incursion of a higher purpose to life.
It is on Shabbos therefore, that we remember, in the presence of all Israel. Elevated with elation by a wine that reveals life’s inner truths, we separate ourselves from the sour vinegar of Amalek, the taste that corrupts our world.
Generally, we separate our ritual observance from Limud Torah, without studying the relevant Parsha while performing a particular Mitzva. The battle against Amalek is unique, with the Torah portion read as an integral element of the Mitzva itself. (The Mitzva to eat Matza on Pesach night is similar, but the implications are reversed, with the physical action an expression of the Pesach story)
Let us reveal the hidden meaning of a Mitzva – ‘Mem’ – ‘Tzaddik’ – ‘Vav’ – ‘Heh’.
The Hebrew alphabet is articulated in varied ways, with the order of ‘Aleph’ – ‘Bais’ merely the most common form. An alternative is known as “Atbash” – with the order reversed, Aleph is read as Tuf, Bais becomes Shin, and so on.
If we read the first two letters of Mitzva in this way, with the second half remaining as is – ‘Mem’ becomes ‘Yud’, and ‘Tzaddik’ becomes ‘Heh’, and we discover that Mitzva is another form of the Divine name.
In other words: Each Mitzva is an independent world, parallel to life as a complete reflection of G-d’s will. As in life itself, only the higher dimension is concealed, while the external side of existence is open and clear.
A Mitzva is the means by which we reveal in our world what is hidden in the next, unifying heaven and earth, allowing man to encompass all of creation.
Once he does so, he can never forget.
When life has no rhyme or reason, no meaning or direction to define the purpose of our being, time becomes an endless blur of pleasures and sensations, with nothing to make one day stand out from the next.
If, on the other hand, every action is a Mitzva opportunity, life becomes one – an overpowering, omnipotent force impossible to deny – and unlikely to ever be forgotten.
Everyone agrees – on Shabbos the Torah was given. We sanctify the Shabbos, recognizing it for what it is, and staying where we belong, in a dimension where G-d’s word is everpresent. And when that final Shabbos comes, Torah will once again dominate the world, never to be lost.
Until that time, we make Havdala, removing ourselves from what the world has become. Carefully, we distance ourselves from the enemy who has no fear, cleaving to the vision of a people who reach to the heavens.
“It happened that when Moshe raised his hand, Yisrael was stronger, and when he lowered his hand, Amalek was stronger”
“Is it the hand of Moshe that does battle or breaks it? Rather, so long as Israel looked up and subjugated their hearts to their Father in heaven, they overcome, and if not, they fall.” (Rosh HaShanah, 4:5)
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 2000 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and ProjectGenesis, Inc.