D’var Torah: The Lessons of Purim and Parshat Zachor
Last week, every Jew was required to hear the reading of Parshat Zachor. The purpose is to remind us of that Amalek attacked us from behind, hitting our weak and stragglers, on our journey in the desert. We are ordered to never forget this attack and to utterly destroy Amalek. Parshat Zachor is connected to Purim because our tradition holds that Haman is a descendant of Amalek.
It feels like we are at a critical juncture in the history of Israel and our people. Specifically, this week, we have heard a lot about Iran’s potential to obtain nuclear weapons and whether the deal being negotiated by the US and others is bad or good. Amalek, Haman and Hitler are all invoked as specters that prove that we cannot appease evil. I have spent considerable time studying the Iran question, and I confidently say that I am not sure what is the best answer. My expertise, I was taught in rabbinical school, is Jewish tradition. I offer the following thoughts based on this knowledge.
Amalek was a very specific incident. Israel has had many enemies throughout the years. Not all of them rose to the level of “Amalek” or “Hitler.” We have to be very careful about how we categorize each threat and be honest with ourselves about it. Why? Because our credibility is at stake. This is tough because mistakes in either direction can be very dangerous. Take the threat too lightly, and the consequences can be dire. Cry wolf too often, and we lose support of our friends and look like warmongers. I hope and pray that the leaders of Israel and the US keep this in mind as they utilize the more detailed information and evidence that they have. We have made mistakes appeasing and we have made mistakes rushing to war. This is far too important an issue to let politics in Israel or the US affect decision-making. I believe that supporters of Israel can have differing views of this situation.
On a different note, I think we often miss the second thing the verse is telling us to remember. To me, the key thing is that Amalek did not fear God and attacked the famished and weak from behind. You might ask why it was that the Israelites marched in a way that left the less fortunate exposed. Building inclusive communities that take care of everyone is a Jewish value and one that we hold very dear at Camp Ramah. The Torah implores us to remember the less fortunate among us when we are settled in the land and the times are good for us. When times are good, we cannot forget those who are weak, hungry and at risk. Thus we embrace the Purim mitzvah of Matanot L’evyonim (giving gifts to the poor). In our good times, we must remember others.
It is very important that each of us does our best to understand our world and to advocate for what we believe in. In whatever form it takes, our support for Israel’s future must be vocal. Similarly, we must remember that a key foundation of Judaism is that we were slaves in Egypt that were attacked for being powerless. Now our mission is to lift everyone up. These values are combined well in the Purim mitzvot of reading the megillah and giving to the less fortunate.