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Remembering Shabbat Zakhor

Remembering Shabbat Zakhor
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The older we get, the more our lives repeat. It seems, at times, as if the cycles of the year are eroded circles without tread, and that we slip and slide as we try to crawl out of them.  The Jewish technology of the holiday cycle is an effort by the ancients to hold our grip firmly as we cycle into tomorrow girded by its regenerative and restorative wisdom. The rabbis created a cosmology of Jewish law and reason to steady us amidst the storms of time, and literally asked us to go outside and look up into the heavens to discern our place in time and space.

The rains are waning in the wake of a luxuriant calendar cycle this year; the Jewish year is long, as an entire month was added in 5779’s Jewish leap year – the month of Adar.  The first month, Adar Alef, is added in a complex calendarial cycle to ensure that our calendar fixes the moon to the sun. There is reasoning attached to this addition: the rabbis wanted to ensure that Passover always fell in the northern hemisphere’s springtime and the month of Adar becomes the chosen leap month, as it is the final month of the year. Additionally, the rabbis felt an attachment to “extending the joy” of Purim, which they imagined to be the only holiday celebrated in “the World to Come,” while at the same time reminding us to “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—”

Now pull the needle from the record player.   

Amalek?  We’re supposed to “Remember Amalek”?!? For the uninitiated:  Amalek, our tradition teaches, is the nation of evil who wish to destroy the ancient Israelites and continues in each generation to breed destruction until our ultimate annihilation. Like Wonder Woman’s Ares, the descendants of Amalek are committed to the destruction of the basic human values of Love, Justice and Unity.  In the Rabbinic and modern rabbinic imagination, this is the lineage of Purim’s Haman, and also of Hitler. Why should our time of joy and “Eternal Life” attach us to our antagonist? And why should we extend our year an entire month in step with this remembrance?

I gather myself at this moment to consider who in my life is the stand-in for Amalek, and ask you to pause to do the same.  That’s a radical notion, as Amalek is the original axis of evil. But, really, who is my (your) perceived shadow? “Not to be paranoid,” but is there someone out there revelling with schadenfreude at every misstep?  As we ascend to Passover and its Victory Dance of Freedom, why the Rabbinic imperative this week, and these two months, to “Remember Amalek”? Perhaps it is time to look around, up to the heavens and down again, down into the dirt of our eroded land beneath our feet. Let’s look in our hearts whose beats will end one day and ask ourselves: what has calcified, ossified and moved into chaos? And let’s emerge from this reflection with a plan to enter into the cycle of life again.

Spring is almost here, and we made it through another near-death experience, according to our Jewish calendar. It’s time to see the Eyes of God in every bud bursting with flower, in every songbird as our background music, and take these teachings to heart. It’s time, with the pulse of life awakening around us, to look Amalek in the eye, and shine the light within each of us upon them, as we march steadily towards our Freedom.

Take that, Memory.

With Love and Torah light,


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