Saturday, March 15, 2008

Shabbat Zachor (Shabbat of Remembrance)

I didn't know it, but apparently, the Shabbat before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor, or "Remembrance Shabbat." Rabbi S. asked us to share Jewish memories from childhood, and talked about how Judaism is made of our own memories and memories we have inherited from others. These are the memories that are not ours, but have become our own over time. I talked about how my brother convinced me that the creamy white horseradish at Pesach dinner was actually really good applesauce - and how I have been unable to eat horseradish since. And I talked about the time when my family thought the Purim carnival came a week before the actual date, so we all showed up at temple school in costume...only to find out that Purim was next week.

After hearing everyone's humorous childhood memories, I asked Rabbi S. why this Shabbat, the Shabbat before Purim, was Remembrance Shabbat. What is it that we are supposed to remember this week that we are not commanded to remember every week? Do we remember the story of Purim or is it more than that?

He said that when the Jews were brought out of Egypt, a man named Amelek led a group who attacked the Jews from behind, even though the weakest - the elderly and the children - walked in the back of the group. It is said that Haman from the Purim story is a descendant of Amelek, who was the first to engage in this kind of ruthless attack. This passage from Deuteronomy as well as a passage from Exodus are read:

Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it. D'varim (Deuteronomy) 25:17-19

Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek...thou shalt not forget it: Contradictions.

Rabbi S. said that of course there is more to it than remembering Amalek's attack, and Haman's plans to kill the Jews of Shushan. We also remember that every one of us has the capacity for ruthless violence, like Amalek. We remember that part of ourselves when we "boo" and hiss and try to drown out Haman's name. With the noise, we acknowledge that it exists. With the noise, we remember. We drown out the worst parts of us, and hope we can give voice to the rest.

The costumes and the drinking and the madness may be nothing more than an attempt to cope with this knowledge: We have space for evil. We have space for good.

Rabbi S. also pointed out that nowhere in the Megillah is G-d's name written. It is a human story about this human capacity for hatred, courage, love, fear, violence, and strength.

It reminded me of this passage from East of Eden:

Timshel. Thou mayst.

Purim Sameach.

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