Through an extra Sabbath Torah reading before Purim, the Jewish people remember the evil who attack God.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
On the Shabbat before Purim, not one, but two Torah scrolls are removed from the Holy Ark. This is because, in addition to the weekly Torah portion, we then read a portion known as “Zachor,” meaning “to remember.”
This additional reading is taken from Deuteronomy 25 where the attack on the Jewish people by the evil nation of Amalek is recorded. The Amalekites were pure evil – an entire nation of Hitlers and Ayatollahs.
What was the evil that the Amalekites committed? Even though the entire world saw how God took the Jewish people out of Egypt and performed scores upon scores of miracles for them in the process – Amalek didn’t care. At their first opportunity they ambushed the Jewish people, particularly the weaker ones who straggled at the back of the camp. By attacking the Jewish people, they were essentially attacking God.
It is interesting to note that the reading of “Zachor” is the only Torah reading that we are obligated to hear by Torah law. That’s right. The weekly Torah readings were instituted by the sages, while this reading – the Torah itself commands us to listen to. For this reason, attendance at synagogue services swells this Shabbat as all men, women, and children hurry to services in order not to miss this special reading.
As the Zachor reading teaches: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, upon your departure from Egypt…You shall erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens, you shall not forget.” The way we remember what Amalek did is by reading the story directly from the Torah.
One might ask, why now? Why is the Zachor reading read at this time of the year? The answer is, the holiday of Purim is on its way! Recall that Purim is the holiday that celebrates the downfall of Haman who came uncomfortably close to launching his plot that would have seen the Jewish people exterminated. It was through the careful planning of Mordechai and Esther that the Jewish people were saved.
Haman was from the nation of Amalek. As they say, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Just like his ancestors, Haman wanted nothing but to harm the Jews, and by extension, God Himself. Haman had no reason to hate the Jewish people. But like Hitler, Haman wanted nothing less than to exterminate the Jewish people everywhere in the world.
This is why the Shabbat before Purim was chosen as the week to read the “Zachor” portion – to recall the founding fathers of the evil Amalekite nation before we celebrate the downfall of one of their descendants.
The message: Zachor. Remember who your enemies are. Evil for evil’s sake is unforgivable. Whether it is Haman, Hitler, or any other despotic leader – we will never forget. The Jewish people will never be destroyed. Am Yisrael Chai.