By Rabbi Heshy Grossman
"Mitzva 189: We are commanded to remember what Amalek has
done to us, he coming first to harm us. To hate him at all times,
and to awaken people with words to do battle against him, and to
encourage the nation to hate him, so that this Mitzva not be
forgotten, nor should the hatred of him weaken, or be lost from the
people with the passage of time...." (Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos)
The Rambam implies, and most Rishonim concur, that the Mitzva
to remember the evil of Amalek is a constant one, and not limited
to the week before Purim. If so, we need to understand why the
reading of Parshas Zachor is traditionally observed on this
particular Shabbos, and not at any other time.
Furthermore, on Purim day, in addition to the Megilla, we read
Parshas "VaYavo Amalek", the battle of Yehoshua recorded in
Parshas B'Shalach. Why does this alone not satisfy the
requirement of Zachor? (see Mishna Berura 685:16)
In our shiur this week, we will answer these questions, and explain,
as well, the significance of memory.
A person remembers incidents or ideas that stand out in his mind,
occasions that are special and new, one of a kind. All others are
'Shachiach' - commonplace events that man finds easy to
'Shocheach' - forget.
Man's awareness of life's significance, and of the important role he
plays in the unfolding of the Divine plan gives him a heightened
sense of attentiveness, and the sensitivity to discern even the
smallest details of G-d's will.
It is here that Amalek attacks - "Asher Karcha BaDerech - who
happens upon you on the way." To the nation of Amalek, life is just
a coincidence, all a matter of chance. With every day the same,
they deny the design of creation, numbed into forgetfulness by the
dulling uniformity of a material existence.
And here we fight back - we always remember.
This Mitzva of Zachor does not stand on its own, for as the
Rambam clearly states, its function is to ready the nation for
battle. It is with the memory of evil that we prepare for war, erasing
any reminder of Amalek and his descendants.
As any Milchemes Mitzva, the fulfillment of Zachor is a public
responsibility, and therefore Parshas Zachor is read aloud by the
congregation. This idea of involving all Klal Yisrael in the Mitzva of
Zachor is not mentioned in Parshas B'Shalach, and for this reason,
one cannot fulfill his requirement by reading that Parsha. Not only
are we obliged to remember his deeds, but we must attach this
memory to the destruction of everything he stands for, and
strengthen our commitment to the unified vision of our nation.
It is this consistent reminder that erases Amalek from the face of
"The B'nai Yisrael said to him: 'Moshe Rabbeinu; one verse says
"Zachor Mah SheAsah Lecha Amalek", while another verse says
"Zachor Es Yom HaShabbos LeKadsho". How can we fulfill both?
This is Zachor while this is Zachor!"
"Said Moshe to them: A cup of spiced wine cannot be compared to
a cup of vinegar...this is Zachor to guard and sanctify the day of
Shabbos....and this is Zachor to destroy and wipe out all the
descendants of Amalek...." (Pirkei D'Rebbe Eliezer, Ch. 44)
This discussion is quite puzzling. The B'nai Yisrael sense a
contradiction between the requirement to remember the deeds of
Amalek and the obligation to sanctify the Shabbos. Why should
these two Mitzvos conflict?
"...All those who recite Havdala over wine on Motzaei Shabbos will
merit to have sons..." (Shavuos 18b)
The Maharal explains Havdala as the process of distinguishing
between Kodesh and Chol, understanding the difference between
the secular pursuits of a material world and the sanctity of a higher
It is the role of a man to be Michadesh, to actively create and
pursue the revelation of a different world (it is for this reason that
man may marry two women, but not vice-versa, he must stand
alone). While a man provides the initial core of individual
rejuvenation and rebirth, a woman is the one who organizes and
arranges the proper order of life.
Man makes distinctions, while women put things in place.
The Zachor remembers.
He who makes Havdala properly, will have a son.
In a world that tries to make us forget, we have no choice but to
make Havdala, separating the good from evil, Shabbos from the
workday week, and this world from the next.
This is the response of Moshe: remembering the Shabbos is the
destruction of Amalek, these are two sides of the same coin.
Klal Yisrael perceives this world as a temporary station, a transit
stop on the road to an eternal destination. The world has a
beginning, an origin of meaning and direction, and it exists as a
process, developing towards a meaningful end.
Shabbos is the goal of each week, and the ultimate evolution of all
life, the sum total of all man's deeds.
Amalek rejects this concept, clinging to he notion of a world with no
direction, no beginning and no end. When the final Shabbos is
revealed to the world, Amalek and his descendants will cease to
exist, for in their haste to struggle against Israel, they have lost
their place on the path of destiny.
Shabbos is the end, and therefore, the beginning. With this in
mind, we greet the Shabbos each week - "Sof Ma'aseh
Amalek has a different sort of beginning, and he stands in place,
never to see the end - "Reishis Goyim Amalek - V'achariso L'Adi
Oved." Within him is the seed of all nations, and their crooked
beginning dooms them to an ominous end.
Shabbos is the sum total of all life - the Klal upon which all else
stands. The man who observes the Shabbos is considered to have
heeded the entire Torah, for Shabbos incorporates all the rest. But
Amalek amounts to nothing, he cannot count, for each day is
divorced from all others. He stands up against the Shabbos,
fighting to resist the incursion of a higher purpose to life.
It is on Shabbos therefore, that we remember, in the presence of all
Israel. Elevated with elation by a wine that reveals life's inner truths,
we separate ourselves from the sour vinegar of Amalek, the taste
that corrupts our world.
Generally, we separate our ritual observance from Limud Torah,
without studying the relevant Parsha while performing a particular
Mitzva. The battle against Amalek is unique, with the Torah portion
read as an integral element of the Mitzva itself. (The Mitzva to eat
Matza on Pesach night is similar, but the implications are
reversed, with the physical action an expression of the Pesach
Let us reveal the hidden meaning of a Mitzva - 'Mem' - 'Tzaddik' -
'Vav' - 'Heh'.
The Hebrew alphabet is articulated in varied ways, with the order of
'Aleph' - 'Bais' merely the most common form. An alternative is
known as "Atbash" - with the order reversed, Aleph is read as Tuf,
Bais becomes Shin, and so on.
If we read the first two letters of Mitzva in this way, with the second
half remaining as is - 'Mem' becomes 'Yud', and 'Tzaddik' becomes
'Heh', and we discover that Mitzva is another form of the Divine
In other words: Each Mitzva is an independent world, parallel to life
as a complete reflection of G-d's will. As in life itself, only the
higher dimension is concealed, while the external side of existence
is open and clear.
A Mitzva is the means by which we reveal in our world what is
hidden in the next, unifying heaven and earth, allowing man to
encompass all of creation.
Once he does so, he can never forget.
When life has no rhyme or reason, no meaning or direction to
define the purpose of our being, time becomes an endless blur of
pleasures and sensations, with nothing to make one day stand out
from the next.
If, on the other hand, every action is a Mitzva opportunity, life
becomes one - an overpowering, omnipotent force impossible to
deny - and unlikely to ever be forgotten.
Everyone agrees - on Shabbos the Torah was given. We sanctify
the Shabbos, recognizing it for what it is, and staying where we
belong, in a dimension where G-d's word is everpresent. And when
that final Shabbos comes, Torah will once again dominate the
world, never to be lost.
Until that time, we make Havdala, removing ourselves from what
the world has become. Carefully, we distance ourselves from the
enemy who has no fear, cleaving to the vision of a people who
reach to the heavens.
"It happened that when Moshe raised his hand, Yisrael was
stronger, and when he lowered his hand, Amalek was stronger"
"Is it the hand of Moshe that does battle or breaks it? Rather, so
long as Israel looked up and subjugated their hearts to their Father
in heaven, they overcome, and if not, they fall." (Rosh HaShanah,
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 2000 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and ProjectGenesis, Inc.