Parshat Zachor: Defeating the Scar

On the Sabbath just before the Jewish holiday of Purim, Jews around the world read a short story from Deuteronomy 25:17-19 about remembering the ancient people of Amalek who attacked the Jews as they left Egypt:

זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—

אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ כָּל־הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִ֣ים אַֽחַרֶ֔יךָ וְאַתָּ֖ה עָיֵ֣ף וְיָגֵ֑עַ וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱלֹהִֽים׃

how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.

וְהָיָ֡ה בְּהָנִ֣יחַ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֣יךָ ׀ לְ֠ךָ מִכָּל־אֹ֨יְבֶ֜יךָ מִסָּבִ֗יב בָּאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יְהוָֽה־אֱ֠לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵ֨ן לְךָ֤ נַחֲלָה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח׃ (פ)

Therefore, when the LORD your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

The beginning of the reading and the end have seemingly conflicting commandments. At first we are commanded to remember what Amalek did, however, the end of the reading instructs us to block the memory of Amalek. Further, the final instruction is reinforced by “Do not forget” to wipe out the memory, another layer of conflicting commands.

Are Jews ordered to remember or to forget?

A closer reading of the verses reveals how to satisfy each commandment and the important unifying message.

The first sentence is a command to remember “what Amalek did,” their ACTIONS. Those people committed a horrific attack and that assault should not be forgotten.

The latter verse is to “blot out the memory of Amalek,” to block the IMPACT ON THE PYSCHE that the attack left on the Jewish people. The Jewish people were just getting to know the first tastes of freedom after generations of slavery, and were set upon by Amalek. The emotional and physical scars left on the Jews would be carried for the rest of their lives. But God made them victorious and He does not want the memory of the pain to overshadow that victory. More specifically, once Jews are situated in “safety from all your enemies” in the land of Israel that God gave “as a hereditary portion,” it is important that past victimhood not continue to negatively color the Jewish outlook on the world.

The message of Parshat Zachor is to remember past atrocities of evil nations but to not let the scars from those encounters cloud the vision of the peaceful present which God has provided.

“Victory O’ Lord” painted by John Everett Millais (1829-1896) depicting Moses, Aaron and Hur during the battle with Amalek

Related First One Through article:

Defeating Haman’s Big Ten Sons and Modern Antisemitism

The Nation of Israel Prevails

Chanukah and Fighting on Sabbath

The Karma of the Children of Israel

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