This Shabbat, in addition to reading Tetzaveh, our portion of the week, we also read a passage which implores us to “Remember (Zakhor) what Amalek did to us” in the desert following the exodus from Egypt. You may recall that the Amalekites attacked the stragglers, the weak and the old. This assault was seen as cruel and immoral, and the rabbis have seen Amalek as the prototype for anti-Semites who have plagued us from time immemorial.
We observe Shabbat Zakhor on the Sabbath immediately preceding Purim because Haman, the evil man who tried to murder the Jews in Shushan was an Agagite, a descendant of Amalek. Thankfully, due to the intervention of Esther and Mordechai, Haman’s plot was thwarted and he was hanged on the very gallows which he erected to kill Mordechai.
Sadly, as the Passover Hagaddah teaches us, “In every generation there arise those who wish to destroy us.” Even more sadly, some of our enemies succeeded in murdering many of our people. But Purim is the exception to the rule. And the Book of Esther details that in addition to Haman’s downfall, the Jews of Shushan successfully defended themselves against others who wished to do them harm. It was a rare exhibition of Jewish might and victory that has found expression in the Jewish calendar in the form of our celebration of Purim.
Tomorrow morning, I will discuss the question “Is Amalek still alive and well today?” Are there individuals or nations that have the desire and/or the means to eradicate the Jews (in Israel and in the Diaspora)? Is everyone who proposes policies inimical to the State of Israel an anti-Semite? These are problematic and often controversial questions worthy of examination, especially in an age when certain individuals and nations call for the eradication of Israel and the murder of Jews the world over.
Shabbat Zakhor forces us to ponder painful questions, but Purim, which begins tomorrow evening, transforms our mood from anxiety to joy. Beginning at 6:30 p.m. we will hear the reading of the Megillah and recall the trials and triumphs of the Jews of Shushan. It is a time of unbridled joy and merriment, often supplemented by a few shots of whiskey or other spirits (adults only please). Please come and pick up your Mishloach Manot packages and enjoy the refreshments following the Megillah reading. The Megillah will be read a second time on Sunday morning during our 8:15 a.m. minyan. Please join us and help us celebrate the victory of the Jewish People of Haman and his minions.
It’s been a Beth El tradition for congregants young and old to come to Purim services wearing costumes or a zany hats to add to the merry atmosphere of the holiday. But you, your friends, and your family are always welcome with or without costumes or hats.
Finally, please join us this Sunday morning for our annual Purim carnival which will include all sorts of fun, food, rides, and attractions. This fun filled event is scheduled from 11:00 a.m to 2:00 p.m. Please come with your best Purim smile and an appetite for good food and fun.
Shabbat Shalom and have a wonderful and joyous Purim.
Rabbi Arthur Lavinsky