Shabbat Zachor: Open Hearts to the World

The Shabbat before Purim is known as Shabbat Zachor (one of 4 special Shabbatot beginning in the month of Adar). In addition to parshat Vayikra, the Torah reading this Shabbat includes the imperative “zachor,” to remember what Amalek did to the Jewish people. Why must this memory be expressed out loud and publicly? 

There is a clear thematic connection between Purim and Amalek. The megilla refers to Haman as “Agagi,” which is interpreted as descending from Agag, king of Amalek in Tanach. Amalek in the Torah was the epitome of evil, preying on the weak and vulnerable Israel who had just left Egypt. The rabbinic sages develop this further and characterize Haman as the archetype of antisemitism and baseless hatred. Purim marks our survival and victory over Haman. Yet, before we begin the full-blown celebrations, we pause and remember Amalek’s evil and cruelty. Rambam explains that the purpose of reading parshat Zachor each year is to not only remember the story but to rouse our emotions and to ensure that such evil behavior does not recur in the world. By remembering verbally, we internalize the message of condemning evil. 

Two other occurrences in the Torah of the command “zachor” reinforce the significance of verbalizing to remember. The Torah states “Remember the Shabbat day,” and the Talmud teaches that this is fulfilled through saying the words of kiddush out loud. Similarly, the mitzvah to tell the story of the Exodus on seder night, is one of the ways to fulfill the mitzvah to remember yetziat mitzrayim.

The Torah uses repetitive language with regard to Amalek, “Remember” and “Do not forget.” The midrash Sifrei interprets this as: “Remember” – with one’s mouth and “Do not forget” – with one’s heart. Just before we celebrate, this is an opportunity to be aware of and speak up about the cruelty happening in the world and ensure that our hearts are open. Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach! -Karen Miller Jackson

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