Parashat T’rumah

Friday, February 19, 2021/7 Adar, 5781
Parashat T’rumah Exodus 25:1–27:19

Dear Friends,

The Shabbat before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor, or Shabbat of Remembering. In addition to reading the words of Parashat Terumah (the Torah portion, which talks about building the Tabernacle), we read a small section of Torah referred to as Parashat Zachor:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Eternal your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

This short passage asks us to zachor, remember, and lo tishchach, to never forget about the cruelty Amalek demonstrated by attacking the weakest members of the Israelites at a moment of struggle and weakness. Its final ask, however, seems to contradict the others. Timchah et zeicher Amalek mitachat Hashamayim, “You shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” How can one both remember Amalek and blot out its memory?

Remembering is an integral part of our Jewish tradition. Each year we remember and retell the story of the Exodus during Passover. On Purim, we will retell the story of an evil man named Haman, a descendant of Amalek, who sought to destroy the Jews. We have Holocaust memorial days and an Israeli Memorial Day in which we remember all those who died protecting the Land of Israel. We have museums, movies, and books to document important events. We understand the importance of remembering, but what does it mean to blot out Amalek’s name?

A few months ago, I began reading age-appropriate books to my son about the Holocaust. He had experienced anti-Semitism, and we had spoken briefly about the Holocaust in the past, but I knew he was mature enough to learn more. Each night we processed the contents of the books we were reading. We discussed how hatred begins and how it grows. We discussed genocide in other parts of the world. “Hatred can grow anywhere, can’t it?” he said. “We have to make sure it doesn’t.”

As he said those wise words, it occurred to me that he had described our commandment perfectly. It isn’t enough to remember that Amalek was cruel or that Haman tried to annihilate our people. We also have to actively do our part to diminish the influence of all those who foster hatred and strife.

This week we will celebrate Purim. We will remember what Haman tried to do, and even more importantly, we will not forget the courage Esther and Mordecai displayed in overcoming such evil. Each time we shake our grogger over the mention of Haman’s name, let it also be a reminder of our obligation to stand up for justice, for love, compassion, and for all that is right. The best way to blot out our enemies is to lead with courage and love.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Cassi Kail