Parshat Zachor has a bit of a cult following. People who are not necessarily strict to hear Torah readings in general will run to shul to hear Parshat Zachor. Many synagogues have multiple readings to make sure everyone has a chance to hear it.
Certainly there’s an element of an opportunity that comes up once a year. But before Zachor was set to be the Shabbos before Purim (for example, before Purim existed), it could have likely been fulfilled any time of year.
The Slonimer Rebbe asked a few questions about Zachor.
The mitzvah is dependent on Israel having gotten past fighting against their enemies – why? Why not destroy them at the first opportunity?
Why destroy their descendants if we can’t identify them? Perhaps they don’t identify with the ways of their ancestors.
Why Amalek specifically? There are so many nations that were far worse!
What strength does Amalek possess that their presence on earth prevents G-d from being “complete”? Is that even possible?
Why an all-out war — men, women, children, animals? Is this necessary?
Why is this war generational? Can’t they be destroyed for good? Why does the battle never end?
In Beshalach we learn that Yehoshua weakened Amalek. He had the chance — why didn’t he get it over with?
The Slonimer Rebbe explains why the war with Amalek is forever, why we need to remember, and perhaps we can take from there why we all go crazy to be sure to hear the reading. We should also seek to understand how it is supposed to impact our lives.
Firstly, he notes that the battle with Amalek is not a physical battle. Amalek is the “dark side,” the sitra achra, and is representative of the spiritual battle every Jew faces every day of the year (until the Messiah comes).
Amalek is representative of the idea that people have free choice. There is the path of goodness, and there is the path of evil. Amalek is an ideology, or even just an idea, that stands on an eternal battleground against goodness.
After the splitting of the sea, Israel were ready to bring the world to where it needed to be. But Amalek came and threw them for a loop. Then they were at Sinai, and they could have done it again — but worshiped the Golden Calf, further delaying this opportunity. In fact, the Slonimer Rebbe blames the event of the Golden Calf on Amalek, citing the damage they did to the trajectory of the people.
Yehoshua weakening Amalek represents weakening the negative shell that Amalek represents, but not eradicating it.
Every sin a Jew commits strengthens the negative force that is represented by Amalek. Amalek was successful in whatever manner in the battle against Yehoshua, because they fought against Israel at Refidim, the place described by the rabbis as the place where rafu yedeihem, the people removed their hands from their commitment to the Torah.
BilaAM and BaLAK also represented Amalek, embedded in the last two letters of both their names. Amalek had the ability to hide their power of destruction in their animals, which is why they needed to be destroyed as well.
The same was true during the time of Mordechai, when the Jews were slated to return to the Holy Land to build the Temple. Haman’s evil designs threw those plans for a loop.
And the same is true in every generation, when G-d wants us to arrive at that Messianic Era, and we are so close to getting there. It is the evil of Amalek that overpowers, that gets in the way, that raises its ugly head and stops us from achieving our goal.
It’s an ideology in individuals and in hate groups that prey on the weak, as Amalek did, that froth at the mouth at the idea of destroying others, that wish for the world to be in chaos and for the Jews to be in turmoil. That is Amalek. As we all know, Amalek is alive and well in our world.
“When G-d gives you rest from your enemies” is the time when you have to wipe out the memory of Amalek. The enemies may be physical, but they are also your spiritual enemies, including those who want the Jewish soul destroyed, the Jewish soul converted. It is hard to eradicate such an enemy. It remains a thorn in our side.
The Slonimer Rebbe also notes that the instruction to remember Amalek is written in the singular. It is every person’s battle. It’s a spiritual battle against evil. Every time we give in to temptation, every time we lose a personal battle and sin, we give a victory to Amalek. Amalek took aim at Israel right as we left Egypt. All it wants to do is make problems. It is very capable of knocking us down again.
Moshe is the ultimate symbol of defeating Amalek. And he is also a symbol for accepting the Torah — Moshe, the ultimate master and teacher.
Purim is also about accepting the Torah and defeating Amalek.
How can we, in a very practical sense, “remember what Amalek did”? It embodied evil, preying on the weak, taking the focus away from G-d with distractions we didn’t need, including a physical confrontation on the battlefield, or an ideology that says G-d is irrelevant.
This battle faces us every day. So we must take the responsibility to remember who we are, and how we are to defeat Amalek day in and day out.
Amalek attacked each person, in the singular — “Remember what Amalek did lecha, to you,” the Torah says, to remind each of us to make the commitment to do what we can to eradicate the distraction of Amalek from our own experiences.
We all need that reminder, and that’s why we make it a priority to hear this Shabbat.