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Parshat Zachor: The Evil That Won’t Be Forgotten

This Shabbat is Shabbat Zachor, the special Shabbat which precedes Purim. It is dedicated to remembering the dastardly deeds of the tribe of Amalek, which attacked the weak and infirm of the children of Israel during the trek of the children of Israel in the desert. The enmity between Israel and the Amalekites extended through the generations and we find episodes of this hostility recurring in a number of biblical stories. The special haftarah for this Shabbat recounts the episode where the prophet Samuel sent King Saul into battle against King Agag and the Amalekites in an effort to finally overcome this belligerent enemy of the Jewish people. In this account, God reminds the people of Israel of the reason for the battle: “Thus said the Lord of Hosts: ‘I am exacting the penalty for what Amalek did to Israel, for the assault he made upon them on the road, on their way up from Egypt.'” (Verse 2)

This verse, among others, raised an interesting association in the mind of one of the great sages of the Talmudic period: Said Rabbi Shimon [ben Lakish]: Some are remembered and praised while others are remembered and cursed. [Among those who are] ‘remembered and praised’ – “Bezalel the son of Uri the son of Hur of the tribe of Judah’ (Exodus 31:2). ‘Remembered and cursed” – Achan the son of Karmi the son of Zavdi ben Zerah of the tribe of Judah”. (Joshua 7:18); ‘Remembered and praised’ – “Remember that which the Lord God did for Miriam.” (Deut. 24:9) ‘Remembered and cursed’ – “Remember what Amalek did to you” (Deut. 25:17); ‘Remembered and praised’ – “And the Lord remembered (pakad) Sarah.” (Genesis 21:1) ‘Remembered and cursed’ – “I am exacting the penalty (pakadti) for what Amalek did to Israel’” (Adapted from Midrash Samuel 1:2, Lifshitz ed. p. 3)

Rabbi Shimon paid close attention to the wording used to describe different biblical figures. He noticed that frequently similar phraseology was employed to describe both heroic and disreputable figures. Since his focus was on memory, his message centers on this very point. Both the righteous and wicked will be remembered in kind. When the righteous are remembered, every detail of their goodness will be remembered. Similarly, the evil of the wicked will be remembered for posterity. It is not just they who will be remembered. Like Amalek, every wicked detail about them will be remembered and attributed to them and their offspring forever, never to be forgotten.  This thought should be taken seriously by those who reek havoc on their nations, their neighbors, and on the world.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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