Our sedra discusses a wide plethora of topics, many of which return to the theme of remembering. In some cases, the remembrance is very indirect and tangential at best, such as by the command to not marry into the nations who denied us water and bread as we left Egypt. In other places, we are told directly to remember- “זכור את אשר עשה אלוקים למרים — remember what Hashem did to Miriam.” Possibly the most clear, direct, and well-explained of these remembrance topics is the last one in our sedra:
זָכוֹר, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק, בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם… וְהָיָה בְּהָנִיחַ ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ לְךָ מִכָּל-אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב, בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה’-אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ–תִּמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם; לֹא, תִּשְׁכָּח.
Remember what Amalek did to you as you were leaving Egypt… And it will be when Hashem your God has given you rest from your enemies surrounding you, in the land that He gave you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heaven; you shall never forget. (דברים כה:יז,יט)
We see here that we are being commanded in two mitzvot: (1) מחיית עמלק, destroying Amalek (according to the well-accepted opinion of Rambam, this commands will apply only after all of the Jewish People have entered Israel and appointed a universally-accepted Jewish leadership… not quite there yet); and (2) זכירת עמלק, remembering and never forgetting the bad that Amalek did to us. Unlike the command of destroying Amalek, the directive to remember them seems to have no end- it is always in effect, even after the accursed nation is long gone.
I, for one, have always been confused about Amalek. I’ve always wondered what terrible actions they did that would earn their entire nation a permanent and eternal death sentence, and with this insight of eternally remembering their evil, my question only gets stronger. What was Amalek’s terrible evil which was so bad that we may “never forget” it?
“אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ, וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל-הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ–וְאַתָּה, עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ; וְלֹא יָרֵא, אֱלֹקים”
According to the p’shat, Amalek “happened” upon the Israelites in an apparent surprise attack from behind, fighting the Jews who were too weak to fight back. This is the most difficult attack to fend off, and also the most important one to learn from, as only through remembrance can we avoid being put in a position of being attacked by surprise again. We punish Amalek for their deceptive approach by wiping them off of the earth, and we remember them in order to not allow ourselves to be fooled in this way again.
Unfortunately, Western/Christian culture doesn’t believe in the value of remembering- “forgive and forget,” the oft-quoted saying goes. Whether it’s a huge national debt, poor leadership, or war against global terrorist states, our American host culture always pushes the importance of looking forward and forgetting the past in order to ensure what they perceive to be a brighter future. Unfortunately, our people’s time in exile has led to us internalizing this mindset as well, and in our days, many of our less dedicated brethren have ironically forgotten the need to remember- according to the Meshech Chochma’s famous commentary on the tochacha in Bechukotai, this situation is practically begging for a national tragedy.
History has shown that every time our people arrived in a new country, our first instinct is to forget the suffering forced on us by our former hosts, our desire to fit in and belong coming with the hefty price of forgetting our tragic past, leaving us vulnerable and unprepared when the next storm approaches, until it’s too late to stop it. This has already happened countless times in history — in Shushan with Achashverosh and Haman, the holy war of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Shoah- and the common factor each time is a person or group noticing that the Jews are “מפוזר ומפורד מכל העמים,” and capitalizing on this weakness to “קרך בדרך” while we are “עיף ויגע,” hoping to accomplish Amalek’s eternal mission of destroying our people. As long as we are too busy trying to acclimate and assimilate, we will not be heeding the warning of “זכר את אשר עשה לך עמלק” until it is too late, and all too many of our brethren have been hurt or killed. Then, as the Meshech Chochama writes, we will pick ourselves up again, move to a new country, rinse and repeat.
If we turn to the tochacha in Bechukotai, and look at the passuk following the Meshech Chochma’s insight:
וְזָכַרְתִּי לָהֶם, בְּרִית רִאשֹׁנִים: אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי-אֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְעֵינֵי הַגּוֹיִם, לִהְיוֹת לָהֶם לֵאלֹקים–אֲנִי ה’
And I will remember for them the covenant of their ancestors, whom I took out of Egypt before the nations to be for them their God, I am Hashem. (ויקרא כו:מה)
Hashem will remember us, and renew His promise to our forefathers, and He will save those of us who remain and bring us home.
The juxtaposition of these two pesukim is no coincidence- in order for us to merit Hashem’s remembering us and saving us, we must first remember- remember that many of us are not yet where we belong, that many of the people surrounding us are just like Amalek, waiting until we are widespread and weak in order to attack us. We must remember what Amalek did to us, and learn from the past in order to save our future, and if we can continue to live our lives in the exile with this “זכירה,” and remember and strengthen our national identity, then Hashem Himself will reciprocate in the correct time, and bring us home to Eretz Yisrael. Then, we will be able to destroy any and every remembrance of Amalek from the earth, and can finally dwell in peace in the land of the very forefathers whose collective merits brought our salvation.
Today we are a little bit more over two weeks away from Rosh Hashana, a day traditionally known as יום הזיכרון, the day of remembrance. With recent global actions supporting a deal to refinance a tyrant bent on our national destruction, things our quite scary (to say the least). However, most scary is that there are so many people in our communities who support this travesty. “It’s the best option,” they say, “we must forget and move on, in order to make peace with the Iranians.”
To these misguided Jews, I say: “זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק בדרך צאתכם ממצרים.” The nations of the world have forgotten the bad that Iran and its jihadist leadership have done to us, and even to them. They are forgetting and intentionally ignoring the burning of US flags, open support of Hizbolah, Hamas, and Boko Haram, and are effectively sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming “la-la-la-la-la” at the Islamic Republic’s brazen cries for nuclear bombs and destruction of Israel and the Western World.
We must remember! We cannot let our nation be sold, our destruction bartered for a few lucrative economic deals, Jewish continuity for cheaper gas at the pumps. As Queen Esther cried out to her selfish, greedy, tyrant (, Iranian!) husband: “כי נמכרנו אני ועמי להשמיד להרוג ולאבד.”
We must do our best to stand up against this Comprehensive Plan for our destruction, and if it emerges that our American hosts really want to sell our people to death and willfully forget the destruction that Iran wants to do against us, we must realize that our place is not here, and leave this God-forsaken country before it’s too late. We must learn and remember the simple lesson that the Meshech Chachama billed as the solution to the Tochacha, and the end to the exile, which the Jews of biblical Persia, medieval Europe, 13th Century Spain, and 20th Century Europe could not grasp: “זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק… לא תשכח- remember what Amalek did to you, don’t become complacent among the nations, and never forget!”