What We Should Remember and Forget: Parshat Zachor

Every Jew is required to hear Parshat Zachor  – read this past weekend – to ensure that we remember what evil Amalek did to us. But read the text below and you will see that it isn’t so simple – in fact the text is downright contradictory.

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt— 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. 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! (Devarim 25:17-19 from Sefaria)

This text directs us to remember what Amalek did to us until we get to a place of safety and then we should wipe out Amalek’s memory. But then we read the admonition “Do not forget!” – Say What!!??

How can you remember something you are supposed to forget? And is that last “Do not forget!” intended to remind us to not forget Amalek during the good times or to remind us to forget Amalek once times are good and not to be bitter?

I think Judaism requires us to hold in our minds at the same time two seemingly contradictory things that are both true.

First, we live in a world that contains evil. The Torah describes evil people as not fearing God and preying on the weak. They do not consider themselves accountable to anyone or anything and feel free to do whatever they want to whomever they want. We must remain vigilant to protect those who are most vulnerable.

Second, fighting “Amalek” is exhausting and takes tremendous resources. We even sometimes have to do things that are hurtful and painful. For example, in World War II, the allied soldiers had to fight and kill to save the civilized world. The horrors they faced, even by taking actions that were justified, scarred them in ways that are hard to fathom. To enjoy life at all, once we have victory over “Amalek,” the Torah says we should blot out their memory. This is why the Torah commands us to forget.

Last, the Torah says, “Don’t Forget!” What am I supposed to not forget – Amalek or not to forget Amalek? The answer is yes to both! We need to celebrate our Purim victory as if there is no evil in the world and we need to fight evil and injustice and help those in need as long as evil exists. We need to compartmentalize so we can accomplish both critical tasks.

Each week at Havdalah we quote what was said towards the end of the Book of Esther, “For the Jews there was light and joy, gladness and honor—so let it be with us!” We should joyously celebrate Purim and send Mishloach Manot to our friends. And we should also perform the mitzvah of Matanot L’evyonim – giving gifts to the poor in the form of tzedakah.  This is the true observance of what the Torah is teaching in Parshat Zachor – to blot out Amalek and celebrate all that is good and at the same time remember to provide for those in need. In this way we can defeat Amalek both in not letting evil bring our lives down and by making sure to we look out for those who are at risk.

Chag Purim Sameach!