Midrash Tanchuma asks a question that is probably not keeping you up at night. The very same phrase of remembrance, “Zachor,” זָכ֕וֹר is used in reference to Shabbat “Remember to keep the Shabbat holy” (Exodus 20:9) – זָכ֛וֹר֩ אֶת־י֥֨וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖֜ת לְקַדְּשֽׁ֗וֹ and with Amaleik “Remember what Amaleik did to you.” (Devarim 25:18) – זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק. The Midrash asks “How can you do both?” Or another version which poses the question as “aren’t they the same” (Midrash Tanchuma Ki Teitzei, 7:1)?
Shabbat or Amaleik – Opposite attitudes.
Perhaps the Midrash is asking – the word “Zechor” implies something you should always remember – a philosophy to live by. Shabbat and Amaleik seem diametrically opposed to each other. Shabbat represents a time of faith and gratitude to God. A day where we bask in God’s presence. We joyously refrain from working on Shabbat to attest to the fact that God created the world and created the day of rest. Living a Shabbat philosophy would be to have an awareness that God is directing our affairs and creating our reality every day.
Amaleik is a dark notion. The world is full of evil. An enemy lurking just outside our door. Amaleik represents the antithesis of Shabbat. The enemy that denies God’s existence and sees the universe as totally random. Which is encapsulated in the words; אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ They “happened upon you along the way.” (Devarim 25:18) We must be vigilant to identify the enemy so it doesn’t, once again, take us by surprise.
The Midrash is asking how do you do both? How do you maintain both outlooks on the world? Are they somehow related?
The Midrash answers with a parable:
מָשָׁל לְמַה הַדָּבָר דּוֹמֶה, לְמֶלֶךְ שֶׁעָשָׂה סְעוּדָה וְזִמֵּן אֵת הָאוֹרְחִים. נִכְנַס הַקְּעָרָה לְפָנָיו מָלֵא כָּל טוּב, אָמַר, זָכוֹר פְּלוֹנִי אוֹהֲבִי. מִשֶּׁקִּנַּח אֶת הַקְּעָרָה, אָמַר, זָכוֹר פְּלוֹנִי שׂוֹנְאִי. אָמְרוּ לוֹ אוֹהֲבָיו, זֶה הִזְכַּרְתָּ וְזֶה הִזְכַּרְתָּ. אָמַר לָהֶם: לָזֶה הִזְכַּרְתִּי עַל קְעָרָה מָלֵא כָּל טוּב, וְלָזֶה הִזְכַּרְתִּי עַל קְעָרָה רֵיקָה. כָּךְ, הַשַּׁבָּת כְּתִיב בָּהּ, זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ (שמות כ, ח), וּלְכַבְּדוֹ בְּמַאֲכָל וּבְמִשְׁתֶּה וּבִכְסוּת נְקִיָּה. וּבַעֲמָלֵק כְּתִיב: זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק. עַל מָה אַתָּה זוֹכְרוֹ. עַל שֻׁלְחָן רֵיקָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר:
“A king made a banquet and invited guests. A tray full of delicacies was brought before him. He said, ‘I am reminded of my friends’ (who are loyal to me). When the tray was empty , he said, ‘I am reminded of my enemies (who are out to destroy me). His friends said to him, ‘You are reminded of both? He (The king) said to them, ‘This one I mentioned over a tray full of all good things and that one I mentioned over an empty tray (Ibid).”’
I believe that the king in the parable serves as a foil (negative example) for the way we are supposed to see events in our lives. This king has only his wits and political skills to rely on. When he sees the power brokers of the kingdom enjoying themselves the king feels optimistic that his power-base is secure. When the party draws to an end doubts creep into his mind and feelings of instability and paranoia set in.
Amaleik is all about doubt
Let’s start with the verses in the Torah back at the end of Parshat Beshalach when we first encounter Amaleik. One verse says that even after all the miracles God performed for them they questioned: הֲיֵ֧שׁ ה’ בְּקִרְבֵּ֖נוּ אִם־אָֽיִן “Is God present among us or not” (Exodus 17:7)? The very next verse says וַיָּבֹ֖א עֲמָלֵ֑ק וַיִּלָּ֥חֶם עִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בִּרְפִידִֽם׃ “Amaleik came and fought with Israel at Rephidim” (Exodus 17:8). Amaleik is God’s answer to lack of faith.
Shabbat and Amaleik: Polar opposites.
Midrash Tanchuma seems to be saying that if you live a Shabbat attitude then you won’t devolve to a “Amaleik” attitude. You will have the faith to realize that there are no random attacks. There are no lurking enemies – just cause and effect.
The person who “Remembers to keep the Shabbat holy” feels the blessing in their life. They embrace “Zachor” by being vigilant to God’s constant messages. They absorb the appropriate lessons and complete the difficult task of reexamining their deeds. In retrospect they see that everything is for the good. Adversity is a blessing no different than the warm embrace of Shabbat. Someone with an “Amaleik” point of view is insensitive to God’s messages. They miss an opportunity to learn and grow from adversity. They too are vigilant. However instead of taking
responsibility for their actions, they blame everything on circumstances beyond their control.
“Remember to keep the Shabbat holy” and “Remember what Amaleik did to you.” are two distinct ways we can choose to look at the world:
A valuable lesson learned or a missed opportunity for growth.