Shabbat Parshat Zachor-5776/2016
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for war and a time for peace
About ten years ago a tragic news story became a major item in England due to its theological ramification. Reverend Julie Nicholson, Vicar at a church in Bristol, England, resigned because of questions she had with her faith. Tragically, her twenty four year old daughter, Jenny, was murdered on July 7, 2005 in the London suicide bombings carried out by four Islamist home-grown terrorists. How did that tragedy conflict with her faith? It hasn’t caused her to question G-d but the theological challenge she faced was that “I rage that a human being could choose to take another human’s life. Can I forgive them for what they did? No, I cannot.” Her reaction was normal but it conflicted with her Christian belief of forgiving and turning the other cheek; Reverend Nicholson simply was not able to do that.
On a basic human level, every caring person will feel her loss and tragedy; the fact that she was doubly hit because she also lost her faith, must have been devastating. For us, we see a sharp contrast between her outlook (i.e. theology) on tragedy caused by evil and the Jewish approach to it.
Judaism has never taken an absolutist attitude towards any emotion, including hate. In Ecclesiastes (3:8) we are told there is a “time to love” and “a time to hate.” We don’t always appreciate the uniqueness of this attitude, but in Jewish consciousness it’s clear that there are times for hate.
We have had numerous enemies over the centuries and no shortage of individual anti-Semites and nations to whom we might apply this verse, but this Shabbos in the last segment of the Torah reading we read “Remember whatAmalek did to you on your way out of Egypt.” This is not just an intellectual exercise in historical memory or national consciousness. The purpose of this mitzvah is to fuel and sustain an emotional attitude of hatred toward Amalek.
Why are we so adamantly opposed to Amalek? Why this obsession with something that happened thousands of years ago? In addition, remembering is just part of the obligation. The other part is that we must obliterate any trace of Amalek in the world. Why are we so extreme?
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch(1808-1888) gives insight which not only sheds light on this particular mitzvah but also on some of the contemporary struggles faced by the State of Israel. He is struck by the fact that the verse (Exodus 17:14) focuses on our destruction not on Amalek, per se, but on the memory of Amalek. He explains that in this subtlety lies the secret to understanding our extremist posture in this mitzvah. “It is not Amalek that is so pernicious for the moral culture of mankind,[it is the ]the memory of Amalek…the glorifying of the memory of Amalek.”
In other words, our concern is not so much their actions or even revenge. It is the historical judgment that is handed down against these actions. Our obligation is to make sure that the actions of Amalek are consigned to the ash heap of history. However, if that does not happen, if “each successive generation looks up in worship to these ‘great ones’ of violence and force,” then their evil will multiply as “their memory will awaken the desire [in others] to emulate these heroes and acquire equal glory by equal violence and force.”
His words serve to understand our current situation and highlight an additional dimension of the problem that we face in present day Israel. The radical Islamists who seek to annihilate Israel, the way Haman wanted to wipe out the Jews in the days of Mordechai and Esther, may be biological descendants of Ishmael (and not Amalek) but they are the ideological heirs to Amalek. The root of the problem is not just the terrorist atrocities but the culture of death from which these atrocities have emerged.
When there is a summit of world leaders who come together to discuss radical religious extremism, it appears to be a wonderful idea, but is it really? Perhaps it is merely of a refusal to clearly distinguish between right and wrong. In WWII we didn’t need to have a conference on violent extremism, we identified it (the Nazi’s) and fought it. When you can’t clearly identify evil-radical Islam, the people who behead innocent people, burn a person in a cage and take a professional video of it, and rape women in the name of religion, it is a perversion of right and wrong; this is the quintessential trait of Amalek.
Amalek’s world is one without G-d, where things just happen. However, the miracle of Jewish survival testifies to G-d’s continued intervention. The same way that He took us out of Egypt, saved us from Haman’s decree of annihilation, granted the small army of the Maccabees victory over Greece, He continues to intervene. By remembering Amalek we also remember that our survival against all odds can’t be attributed to us and even though we have some wonderful, professional, and effective Jewish organizations that plead our cause, no one from either side of the political spectrum, even claims to have the answer to global anti-Semitism and the lies hurled on Israel.
How can we internalize the message of Parshat Zachor, where we read about a nation, Amalek, who is bothered by our existence? We must recognize that we have an educational and moral responsibility to stand in contrast to this cultural trend in the radical Islamic world and to speak – along with all people of good will – with a moral clarity that makes clear that this is evil incarnate. We are required to identify evil; if we don’t, how can we hope to eliminate it?
There is no obligation to forgive the murders Amalek and those who follow their ideology have carried out against the Jewish people and humanity. One can’t really appreciate right and good if one doesn’t clearly identify wrong and evil. Each of us has a bit of these mixtures in us and we are obligated to identify them so that we can reach the potential in us and actualize the pure and powerful soul with which we have been gifted.
The Jewish nation has always been known to give charity proportionately greater than our small population, and history has shown that kindness, not violence, is part of our DNA. We have made many mistakes but our culture is one of kindness and that is why we have to hate evil when we encounter it. If you don’t destroy evil, it will destroy you. By hating and destroying Amalek and the philosophy it embodies, we demonstrate what is important to us.
Shabbat Parshat Zachor-5776/2016