Rabbi's Weekly Message

A Message from Rabbi Peltz ~ Thursday, February 22

This Shabbat before Purim is known as Shabbat Zakhor, the Shabbat of memory. We read a special maftir portion, from the book of Deuteronomy, that describes how the tribe of Amalek attacked the Israelites on their way out of Egypt. We will read: “Zakhor Et Asher Asa L'Kha Amalek -- Remember what Amalek did to you -- how undeterred by fear of God, they surprised you on the march, when you were tired and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in the rear." Amalek’s attack was unprovoked. It was an attack on defenseless civilians. It was cruel and callous. We read this portion before the holiday of Purim because Haman, the villain of the story, is said to be a descendant of Amalek. Our tradition has identified many enemies of the Jews as descendants of Amalek. This need not be taken literally, rather it can help us recognize that there are people in this world who do terrible acts of evil. People who commit acts of terror, like shooting innocent children and teachers in schools. We are all still reeling after the latest terrible shooting attack, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. An attack that recalls the brazen attack by Amalek. The Hebrew word used for the attack is Korkha. Commentaries associate this word with the Hebrew root meaning "to chill." Acts of terrible violence on innocents can have a chilling effect on victims and witnesses. They can produce fear and can chill one’s faith in decency and humanity. Perhaps it is for this reason that the reading begins with the imperative of Zakhor – Remember. We must not allow horrific attacks on civilians, or the seemingly overwhelming task of getting our elected leaders to enact gun control legislation, chill our resolve. Rather, we are commanded to remember, and to way that we remember is by living and advocating for our values, like many of the students and families from Parkland have begun to do. Our highest value is one that is also found in the book of Deuteronomy – Baharta ba’hayim – “Choose life.” Hearing this special maftir Torah reading on Shabbat is considered to be a mitzvah in and of itself. That’s because it is incumbent upon each of us to always remember that we cannot allow Amalek and its metaphorical descendent to win. Rather, we need to defend ourselves, our lives, and our values. That is why we need to Remember -- Zakhor.