March 15, 2014
I have always felt that Zachor, the name associated with this shabbat captures in a single word the essential moral imperative of what it means to be a Jew. We are commanded Zachor: Remember.
But what are we commanded to remember?
On Passover and at other times we are commanded to remember that we were once slaves in the land of Egypt.
Our experience as strangers and as slaves is meant to make us sensitive to the plight of the downtrodden and the oppressed. We are thereby commanded to stand with the victims of oppression and repression, and to be advocates for the powerless. The reminder of our experience is to inoculate us so that we do not become hardened and insensitive to the suffering of others, so that we do not become like those who mistreated and enslaved us during our 400 year ordeal in Egypt.
This notion is so ingrained in our conscience and so much a part of our psyche that it helps to explain why Jews are so often in the forefront and leaders of liberal causes and movements to help others. We should take pride in the work that Jewish individuals, as well as of the role played by Jewish organizations throughout history to help to better the lives of others. It is why Jews are such disproportionately generous donors to hospitals, and cultural and social welfare institutions throughout the world.
But the Zachor we are commanded about today is different than what we are commanded to remember on Passover. On the Sabbath before the holiday of Purim we are told to remember what it is that the Amalekites sought to do to us. And while Judaism is well known for its disputes and controversies, about this the Torah and the commentaries are very clear.
The Amalekites are described as a people who had no fear of God. Not only did they attack the Jewish people, but it was especially offensive because they did so at their weakest moment, and at their most vulnerable point. They attacked the rear. They preyed upon the weak, the elderly, the infirm; the very people whom our tradition teaches us we have an obligation to shelter and protect. The Amalekites are portrayed as the embodiment of evil, bent upon destroying the Jewish people, and are the very antithesis of all we venerate. Haman, portrayed as evil incarnate is an Amalekite.
For me the message of this Shabbat is unequivocal and relevant to today.
It means we should not be so naïve as to believe that the rest of the world is like us. We should not be so naïve as to believe that there are not those who seek our destruction. It means we must be ever vigilant.
Just last week, Israeli naval ships captured a ship headed for Sudan loaded with missiles. The hidden cargo was supposed to make its way across land and wind up in the hands of Hamas in the Gaza strip. The weapons were more potent than anything they currently have, with a range three times further than anything they currently have, and would have put the entire country of Israel within missile range of Hamas.
This is what it means to remember.
It means we have to recognize and admit that Israel has enemies who are very real, and who will do whatever they can to bring about its destruction. When I read in the Torah portion that Israel upon its departure from Egypt and after 40 years of wandering in the desert was ayef vayageah, tired and weak – I think of the Jewish people after the devastation of the Holocaust. Within just three years of the annihilation of one third of our people, at a time when we were ayef vayageah, tired and weary, within hours of its becoming an independent nation, the newly established Jewish nation was attacked by Arab nations who sought to prey upon the vulnerability of the Jewish people and destroy the sapling that had just been planted within the international community of nations.
This is what we must remember.
When we see efforts to denounce Israel, such as the well-financed, well-orchestrated campaign to isolate and defame Israel, known as BDS, we must cry out against these efforts, for we are commanded to remember that there are enemies of the Jewish people.
Israel’s neighbors are not Canada or Luxemburg.
And we should also remember that,
Israel after all, is not Iran – where homosexuals are imprisoned.
Israel is not Malaysia or Pakistan — where honor killings are carried out and justice subverted.
Israel is not Saudi Arabia –where women are not granted basic human rights.
Israel is not North Korea, the most repressive country on the planet.
Israel is not Syria, where its regime has killed over 100,000 people, and where Palestinian refugees are being starved and rounded up.
Rather, Israel is a country that in the last few months alone, has taken in 800 Syrians and treated them in their hospitals. And by the way, when they are sent home with medicine, the Hebrew has to be taken off the label, lest a Jihadist see it and take revenge on the patients or their families.
For that matter, Israel also fares favorably when compared to Western European nations who are suddenly discovering the discomfort caused by immigration and who are not quite as hospitable as they profess.
The message of this week is zachor, to remember. Remember that there is Hezbollah, and Hamas, Islamic Jihad, The Moslem Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, Syria, Iran, and countless Islamist terrorist splinter groups all vying for the title of who can wreak the most destruction upon the Jewish state.
Carol King’s song “You’ve got a friend” comes to mind. It warns –
“They’ll hurt you and desert you.
They’ll take your soul if you let them,
Ahh, but don’t you let them. “
That is what we must remember today, not to let them hurt or destroy us. In a month we will remember what the Egyptians did to us. We will be reminded of the imperative to be compassionate. Today we recall what others did to us so we will remain vigilant and so that this compassionate people will survive.