This Week in Torah
Tetzaveh – Shabbat Zachor 5775
Exodus 27:20-30:10 & Deuteronomy 25:17-19
I Samuel 15:2-34
This D’var Torah, originally published by the Israel Religious Action Center and here for Parshat Tetzaveh – Shabbat Zachor 5773 (2013) is, arguably, more relevant today than it was two years ago. Please read these articles – one of concern, the other of hope – before considering this re-offered D’var.
Remembering to Forget to Remember
This week we are studying our regular Parasha, Tetzaveh, as well as the special readings for Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Memory that precedes Purim. Like Purim itself, our texts admonish us to remain in touch with our own Peoplehood and its identity while, at the same time, teaching us the importance of remembering times, events and enemies that we would sooner forget. Before Purim invites us to sonically blot out the name of Haman the Agagite, Shabbat Zachor calls us to, both remember the threat that Haman and his kind can pose to us, and never to forget our messianic vision and mission to perfect our world.
The first reminders in this week’s texts are the two Avnei Zikaron, memory stones that are attached as epaulets to the raiment of the Kohain Gadol. Each stone was engraved with the names of six of the tribes of Israel as a Zikaron reminder before God. (Exodus 28:12) Some say that these are to remind God of whom we are. It may be more appropriate to say that the stones caused those regarding the high priest’s garb to focus on our national identity in relationship to The Eternal and God’s commandments. The Avnei Zikaron remind those who serve as our leaders that the adornments of office do not raise them above the multitude, but rather put the multitude above them and on their shoulders.
Second, is the contradictory commandment in our Maftir “Strike the memory of Amalek from under the heavens, don’t forget.” (Deuteronomy 25:19) We are, at once to erase Amalek – the model of injustice, cruelty and bigotry – from human thought and speech but, in order to do so, we must remember who they are and the evil that this paradigmatic people can bring into the world. The Raibal relates this verse to the commandment of Leviticus 19:17, which instructs us to combat evil without falling into evil ourselves, to resist hate without becoming hateful, to fight injustice without becoming unjust. We are to wipe out Amalek while remembering not to become like Amalek as we do so.
Finally, our Haftarah from I Samuel 15, forces us to recall King Saul’s error in thinking that the job was done while there was still a vestige of Amalek left in the world. Taken together with our reading from Deuteronomy, we learn that the process of rooting out injustice is ongoing. Both at home in Israel and in the Diaspora, this task is ongoing, at least until the coming of the Messianic Age of perfection and redemption – the hope of which we remember at all times but most particularly next month, on Passover.
Meanwhile, its almost Purim – so be happy!
Rabbi Steve Denker