Therefore, when the LORD your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!(Deuteronomy 25:19)
Tonight we begin Shabbat Zachor (“The Shabbat of Rembrance”) – the term for the Shabbat that falls immediately before the festival of Purim. This day is so called in reference to the commandment to remember the Amalekites, the infamous arch-enemies of Israel who were known for attacking the weakest and most vulnerable members of the community. According to the Torah, “The LORD will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages” (Exodus 17:16) – indeed, Haman himself is identified in the Book of Esther as a descendant of King Agag, the notorious Amalekite king mentioned in this week’s Haftarah portion.
What does Shabbat Zachor ask us to remember? Is is simply to always remember that no matter how good we may have it, there are enemies out there in the world conspiring to kill us? In this regard I’m especially interested in the commandment from Deuteronomy above – to never “forget” to “blot out the memory” of Amalek. While this imperative might at first seem confusing or contradictory, it might well offer us a profound insight into the spiritual effects of remembrance – particularly in the wake of trauma.
Trauma experts have long pointed out that one of the central symptoms of PTSD is the persistent reliving of past traumas. Trauma therapy is thus directed toward effecting the reduction of the crippling impact of these memories – to eventually “blot them out” as it were. The same might be said for the collective experience of trauma. Perhaps the verse above is not commanding us to forget or become complecent about our enemies so much as it is instructing us to eradicate the aspects of our traumatic past that serve to keep us enslaved or imprisoned.
Given the abundant traumatic memories of our post 9/11 world, the imperative of Shabbat Zachor speaks to us with a powerful urgency indeed.
IT seems to me that the best way to cope with unpleasant or scary memories is to give one’s best efforts to the day, and to the task at hand. If I am occupied with the work to be done – Tikkun Olam at its best – I have less emotional space to be filled with animosity or regret.