This Shabbat, our second Torah scroll will take us to the reading that precedes Purim, which is Parshat Zachor, the section from Deuteronomy that asks us to remember what Amalek did to use as we left Egypt. This is actually the one Torah reading for which there is a Torah-based commandment to hear this read aloud in pubic. Why might this Torah reading be the one that has this particular distinction?
Let’s begin with what did Amalek do to us. When we were leaving Egypt, after passing through the Reed Sea, we were walking through the beginning of the wilderness. In the back of our throng of people were those who were the most vulnerable: the elderly, children, the ill, those who had a hard time walking, and so on.
The Amalekites, a semi-nomadic people from that time, attacked us, but not as one would expect an armed force would do, which would be to attack our armed men. Instead, they attacked us where we were most vulnerable: the people in the back. That said, once we realized what was going on, Joshua, our military leader of the time, chose men, met them in battle and was victorious. So all is well that end’s well.
But why did Amalek do that anyway?
The Torah tells us that they were not “God fearing.” This term, which appears in the Torah a number of times, is the Torah’s way of describing people who are amoral, whose culture does not have a sense of ethics, of right and wrong, and seek to undermine what might be considered natural law, or the common sense tenets of human civilization.
Amalek is no longer an ethnic group. In fact, calling Haman (boo!) an Amalekite might not be a claim of a biological nature (since they were all wiped our under the reign of King Saul), but more a claim of an ethical or spiritual nature. We are not commanded to remember what an evil ethnic group did to us. We are commanded to remember what happens when those who hold power have no sense of ethics and morals, and then act according to their whims.
We are to remember that with power comes responsibility, and that one must always seek to wield power with “yirah,” a sense of awe and reverence, a feeling that one’s actions are being monitored and evaluated, watched and judged, all the time. Amalek is a state of mind that we must constantly be watching for and working to change, even within ourselves.