This week’s parsha details the different ritual clothes that were to be made for the priesthood, following on last week’s discussion of the objects to be used in the mishkan (tabernacle) by the priests. This week is also one of the four parshiyot in the spring that has a special significance. This week is parshat Zachor (the portion of Rememberance), named for the special maftir that is read after the weekly parsha, describing the war fought between Amalek and the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt. According to many traditional Jews, it is a biblical requirement to hear the Torah reading this week, as it fulfills the commandment that the texts speaks of. In a famous, but brief passage, Deuteronomy relates:
Remember that which Amalek did to you along the way, as you left Egypt. That they happened upon you along the way and killed all the stragglers behind you, and you were tired and weary, and did not fear Hashem. And it will be, that when Hashem your God lays down all the enemies around you in the Land that Hashem your God is giving you as a portion to inherit: blot out the memory of Amalek from under the sky, do not forget! (25:17-19, translation mine)
As the villain in the Purim story, Haman, is a descendent of Amalek, the connection to this time of year is clear. However, the commandment itself, which is purportedly fulfilled by listening to this text read communally, is confusing. It is almost rabbinic in its ambiguity, as how can one remember for all time to forget? Granted, the simplest solution is that, according to the Tanach itself (Chronicles I 4:41-43), Amalek has been destroyed, and so by reading parshat Zachor and the Purim story we are simply remembering a time when they were not destroyed. However, given the popularity in many Jewish circles of arguing that Amalek represents whatever our current mortal enemy is, the historical account given in the Tanach does not seem to have taken hold.
Before celebrating Purim each year, the Rabbis wanted all Jews to reflect on the fact that, by listening to this parsha, they are fulfilling a mitzvah that eternally commemorates the Divine command to commit genocide. Maybe Purim is not just about revelry and abandon.
How can we forget
What Hashem commanded us:
To kill Amalek?