26 Feb 2015

Tetsave-Zakhor 5775: Ah Yes! I Remember it Well

Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. Dr Seuss

Memory seems to be central and is of crucial importance in our preparation for Purim. On the Shabbat prior to Purim, we always read parashat Zakhor[1] which is where we find the mitzvah to remember Amalek’s ambush of our people as we took our first steps out of Egypt. We are told by G-d ״Zakhor! – Remember! Never forget!” Torah teaches us that memory is somehow meant to diminish the power of Amalek in the world.

When we remember, as opposed to dis-member, we make connections and we integrate details into a rich fabric of life that emerges and gains meaning in the seat of human consciousness. Yet, when those same details are isolated and stripped out of sequence, when they are thought of simply as random events, they also become devoid of all significance and meaning. To isolate a moment, a bit of information, or any detail for that matter, is to divorce it from being seen as a consequence — literally, a result of sequence.

Being sensitive to consequence is important not only in order to anticipate outcomes of choices and actions, but also to recognise outcomes themselves as results of a progression of events rather than haphazard occurrences. When we view history this way and, along with it, our lives, we see things in vast context rather than as random phenomena, and randomness is the cornerstone of Amalek’s philosophy.

The word for randomness in Hebrew is קרי. It is the same root used in the word מקרה — a happening. In the Torah we are told that Amalek “happened upon us” (קרך בדרך) which means that it was a random, unprovoked attack. They did not attack us because they had an old score to settle, or because we did anything to hurt them. They attacked us in order to damage any sense of value that came as a consequence of the auspicious events that led to our freedom. The Amalekites are the primal terrorists in Torah. They attacked not to destroy, but to induce terror in order to bring down our pride and morale and to instil fear and even shame into our hearts. They did this so that we might not draw from our powerful history and use it as a source of courage to live in this world in our best capacity.

Sadly, it is a tactic that sounds all too familiar. It is one that thrives on a lack of memory. In the eyes of Amalek, the world is random, events just happen, and lives, in reality, are nothing more than a random conglomerate of incidental moments. There is no sanctity, there is no value, there is nothing meaningful. The Megilla tells us of a later descendant of Amalek, Haman, who, in his nihilism, cast lots to determine when he would annihilate an entire people.

For most of us, this nihilistic vision is too cold[2] to subscribe to as a way of life. But many of us dabble in its frosty pool without realising. In fact, it is when we don’t realise and we are not conscious, that we are most susceptible to it. Whenever we look at a current event and see it as an arbitrary phenomenon and forget that it is a culmination of the occurrences that led up to it, or when we see the condition of our lives as a local circumstance rather than the emergent reality that developed over centuries and millenia, we cool down the heat of the intensity and deep meaning of life. We edit the richness of history and of our identity and we lose, to the degree that we do so, the gravitas of a moment and the weighty honour or kavod of life.

In Tetsave we read of the Kohen Gadol who wore the names of the tribes of Israel upon his heart leKavod ulTifaret – for honour and splendour and for zikaron[3]memory. His stature and office expressed the dignity and beauty of the people, the honour and splendour came from cherishing zikaron – memory. It is with this parasha that Zakhor is most often read, and in the context of these two parashot that we herald Purim. For it was on Purim that we saw in a story — a series of events — the glory of G-d, and, in His glory, the reflection of our own. It is with the mitzvah of reading the story of the Megilla that we discover that life is not made of cold, detached, random events, but rather of the warm, integrated and meaningful moments that shine with the hallowed presence of G-d running through them.

Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameah,

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] Deut., 25:17-19

[2] This is not arbitrary, for the word for ‘cold’ in Hebrew is קר, from the same root as קרי ‘random’ and מקרה ‘a happening’, essentially indicating something without intent and meaning.

[3] 28:12,29