Al tishkah! Don’t forget!
This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetze, has the largest number of mitzvot (72) of any portion. It concludes with mitzvot that are particularly challenging.
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you came out of Egypt, how he fell upon you on the way and cut down all the stragglers, with you famished and exhausted and he did not fear G-d…. You shall wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens, you shall not forget.” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19, tr. Robert Alter)
What was it that Amalek did that was so horrendous that we are to wipe out all of his descendants as Samuel later tells King Saul to do? (I Samuel 15:3)
He attacked our people from the rear, focusing on the most vulnerable stragglers—the weak and the infirm, the elderly and the young. Why? Because he could. No other reason is given.
In Torah code we are told that he did not fear G-d. We have seen those words applied in a positive way to the two Egyptian midwives who saved our sons from Pharaoh’s decree. (Exodus 1:17)
How did they have the courage to commit this act of civil disobedience? They feared G-d. They had an innate sense of right and wrong, of the value of human life.
This is what Amalek lacked, what enabled him to attack in this way.
The rabbis worried that we might try to find Amalek’s descendants and wipe them out, so they taught that Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, around 500 BCE, mixed up all the nations (TB Yoma 54a). So we can no longer identify Amalek’s descendants.
But one modern hasidic master, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Zachs, went further, implying that it was we who did not “fear G-d. “If the Israelite nation had not forgotten these vulnerable people, but rather had brought them close under protection of the Divine Presence… by including them with the rest of the population, Amalek could not have harmed them. This is a sign for the generations.” (Iturei Torah, Parashat Ki Tetze).
And maybe, there is a little of Amalek in each of us.
What then is the sign and the challenge for us especially today? Who are the vulnerable in our community who need to be surrounded with care and love? You know who they are—the sick, the elderly, the young, the lonely, the isolated and depressed, the forgotten, and the essential workers.
How can we show that we know what G-d expects of us?
Before this Shabbat begins, look through your old “rolodex” or your computer address book and phone list and remember those with whom you’ve lost touch.
- Call at least one before every Shabbat
- Arrange a Zoom dinner or a post-havdalah dessert
- Send a handwritten note
- Put Shabbat flowers outside a neighbor’s door
- Bang a pot at 7:00PM
We’ve done it. It has had a real impact on those to whom we reach out—and even more so on ourselves.
So on this erev Shabbat and on those to follow…bring them close and wish them Shabbat Shalom.
And Shabbat Shalom to all of you.