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Torah Sparks

February 23, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Exodus 27:20-30:10; Hertz, p. 339; Etz Hayim, p. 503
Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 27:20-28:30; Hertz, p. 339; Etz Hayim, p. 503
Maftir: Deut. 25:17-19; Hertz, p. 856; Etz Hayim, p. 1135
Haftarah: I Samuel 15:1-34; Hertz, p. 995; Etz Hayim, p.1280

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(27:20-28:30) Instructions concerning the oil for the Ner Tamid, the fashioning of the Ephod and breastplate.

(28:31-39) The directions for the High Priest's uniform.

(28:40-43) The clothing of Aaron's sons, i.e. the ordinary kohanim.

(29:1-18) Instructions for the ritual consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests.

(29:19-37) Instructions for the consecration of Aaron and his sons during their seven days of inauguration.

(29:38-46) Instructions concerning the Tamid, the daily sacrifice.

(30:1-10) Instructions concerning the fabrication of the incense altar and its special function.

This Shabbat's Theme: "Who Is 'Amalek' Today?"

This Sabbath which comes right before Purim is known as "Shabbat Zachor" because we are admonished in our maftir to "remember Amalek", a ruthless enemy who without provocation, attacked the weak and unarmed Israelites in the desert. According to tradition, Haman the arch-enemy of the Jews in the Purim epoch, was a descendant of the brutal Amalekites.

"Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt. How, undeterred by the fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in the rear. 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 the heaven. Do not forget!" (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

  1. "You shall blot out the memory of Amalek..." A people so devoid of natural religion as to kill non-combatants had forfeited all claim to mercy. (J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch, p 856)
  2. "You shall not hate an Edomite, for he is your brother" - good or bad, he is your brother. "You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land " - good or bad, for among them you lived many years. But as for Amalek - "Remember what Amalek did to you" - they were and remain the persecutor of the weak. (Pesikta Rabbati 47b)
  3. 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist bombing - Closure surely is a balm for grief, and we can only hope that the mutilated families will find it. But if the rest of us are now lulled into complacency by a well-conducted trial's fair outcome, that's not closure - it's amnesia. Timothy McVeigh didn't come from nowhere. (Frank Rich, The New York Times, June 5, 1997, after McVeigh was convicted for murder in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing)
  4. "And Haman said to King Ahasuerus: 'There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom, and their laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the King's laws. It is not in your Majesty's interest to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be written that they be destroyed...'" (Esther 3:8-9)
  5. Grant them civil rights? I see no other way of doing this except to cut off all their heads on one night and substitute other heads without a singl Jewish thought in them. (Johann Fichte, a leading philosopher of the German Enlightment, and first rector of the University of Berlin, 1762-1814)
  6. The Jew serves (the anti-Semite) as a pretext; elsewhere his counter-part will make use of the Negro or the man of yellow skin. (Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew, p. 54)
  7. Rabbi Elijah Schochet, in his brilliant scholarly work "Amalek, The Enemy Within", presents another interpretation of Amalek's behavior which is expressed in later rabbinic writings: Essentially, all agree that what the Amalekites did was utterly reprehensible. Yet, it never could have happened if the Israelites had not brought their vulnerability upon themselves. In this regard, the saintly Lithuanian sage, Rabbi Israel Meir haKohen, known as the "Hafez Hayyim", deemed the quarrelsome state of the Israelite community, with its incessant internecine feuding, as the causative factor in bringing about Amalek's attack. He asserts, "Had the Israelites but been unified as a community, the divine clouds would surely have shielded them from all harm". The homilist concludes his observations with an appeal for unity among his contemporaries, bidding them to heed the truth of the promise that " long as Israel remains united, Amalek has no power over them" (cf. Schochet, p. 61)

"Sparks" for Discussion:

In Jewish categories of thought and expression, the mention of Amalek connotes a particular form of behavior which is considered to be both cowardly and odious. Accordingly, the term "Amalek" has always been identified in our historic conscience with and applied to certain situations (e.g. pogroms), specific people (e.g. Haman), to certain nations (e.g. Germany).

"Amalekite behavior" or attacks directed against the vulnerable and weak can be applied, of course, universally just as well. A few examples readily come to mind but none has more relevance to us today then what we have witnessed in recent times - brutal acts directed against defenseless people by an organized form of terrorism.

Terrorist acts such as those carried out on September 11th in the U.S. and those perpetrated again and again against Israel's civilian population have an ancient precedent. They are truly a throwback to the cowardly, vicious activity of biblical Israel's ancient inveterate foe - the Amalekites.

It is interesting to note that in years past, one might have felt a bit uncomfortable about the biblical commandment found in this Shabbat's parashah, - to "blot out" - to completely eradicate the Amalekites. But what about now? What are your thoughts "post 9/11"?

Would you equate the impassioned, forceful remarks of the U.S. President about completely obliterating terrorism and any government harboring terrorists with the sentiments of the ancient Amalekite commandment to "blot out" such evil?

Finally, why is this commandment one that the Jews would particularly understand?

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