Posted in Dvar Torah, on March 14, 2014

Parshat Zachor and Purim

Every Monday, Thursday, Saturday, new month, holiday, and fast day we publically read from the Torah.  Among all of these days, there is only one time a year in which this ‘reading’ is commanded on a Biblical level (d’Orayta)!  Every single other ‘reading’ we find throughout the year are products of various Rabbinic enactments (d’Rabanan).   This week we are privileged to be able to read “Parshat Zachor”, the one portion that we are Biblically commanded to read.


Parshat Zachor consists of three verses found in the 25th Chapter of Deuteronomy, which give a brief historical synopsis of the war between the nation of Amalek and the Jewish nation on the way out of Egypt, and the commandment we have to take revenge on the Amalekites because of this.  The theme of this small passage is the imperative to both “remember – zachor” and to “not forget – lo tishcach”.  [See Lessons of the Avodah Part 2 for further explanation of the double-language of remember and don’t forget].

I would like to start off with a couple questions:  What is so important about this passage that it is the only one required by Torah law to be read publically every year?  Why does this reading have to be done the Shabbat before the holiday of Purim?  What exactly does the nation of Amalek mean for us today? In order to understand the answers to these questions, we must first examine Parshat Zachor a little bit more carefully.

We are told to “Remember that which Amalek did to you on the way out of Egypt, that they karcha on the way…”

What exactly is this word karcha?  Many of the commentators argue as to the correct translation of this word: some suggest that it comes from the word kar, which means cold.  Amalek cooled off the metaphorical fire and passion of the Jewish nation after such great miracles.  However, the simplest translation of the word karcha is “happened upon you”.  (In modern Hebrew the phrase ma kara means, “what happened?”)

Remember that which Amalek did to you on the way out of Egypt, that they happened upon you on the way.  Amalek happened upon the Jews.  By chance, they encountered the Jews.  Amalek viewed the entire story of the Exodus as a coincidence, as chance.  Amalek represents the idea of coincidence and random happenings.

Let us now examine the story of Purim.  The simple connection between Amalek and Purim is the common enemy.  Haman, the villain in the Purim story, is from the nation of Amalek.  However, there is a much, much deeper connection between the two stories.

Megilat Esther, the text upon which the holiday of Purim is based on, is an excellent story.  It is a story of politics, emotions, suspense, and tactics.  Unlike most other stories in Tanach (most notably the story of the Exodus), there is no mention of God in Megilat Esther.  There are no open miracles, there is no Divine intervention, there is no prophecy, and the name of God is not recorded a single time in the text.

Essentially, one could read the story of Esther and Mordechai defeating Haman the same way they read a John Steinbeck novel!  The entire story was a conglomeration of crazy coincidences that allowed for a random, innocent Jewish girl to become queen just at the moment that she needed to have a connection to the king and foil an evil plan to destroy her nation!  Mordechai not only happens to overhear the two servants of King Achashverosh plotting their assassination attempt, but happens to be fluent in the exact foreign language they are speaking to each other while formulating their plot (see Talmud Bavli Megilla 13b)!  This is a fantastic storyline!

One could easily mistake all of these events as being a series of coincidences.  They would be making the mistake of Amalek.  As we mentioned above, Amalek sees the world as a world of chance and coincidence, a world without God’s Hand.  The Jewish people are commanded to erase that worldview.  We as a Jewish faith believe that God alone is responsible for everything that occurs in the world.  The story of Esther and Mordechai could not have happened were it not for God’s Hand guiding the story in each of its twists and turns.

We now can see why Parshat Zachor must be read before Purim.  We must prepare ourselves for the holiday of hidden miracles by understanding our responsibility, from the Torah, to see God’s hand in the natural world.

The Zohar, which is one of the main texts of the world of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), has a very intriguing line.  He explains that the Holiday of Yom Kippur is named after the holiday of Purim.  Yom Kippurim really should be read as yom k’purim – a day like Purim.  What connection does Purim have to Yom Kippur?  Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, while Purim is a holiday of drunken feasts and costume parties!!

We, as a Jewish community, tend to measure how holy a holiday is based on how much time we spend on that holiday in Synagogue.  On Yom Kippur, the holiest day, we spend all day there.  On Rosh Hashanah, we spend most of the day there.  On Shabbat, we spend a good chunk of our time there.  However, on Purim we don’t spend any more time in Synagogue as we would on any given weekday?   Does this mean it is not holy?  The Zohar clearly thought it was…?

There is a story told by Rav Neventzahl (the former Chief Rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem) that goes as follows:  A Christian minister once asked a Rabbi, “What really is there between our God and your God?  What would you say is the main difference between our belief and yours?”  The Rabbi answered him:  “Our God exists in the bathroom, whilst your God does not.”

The Jewish God exists in the bathroom.  In this statement lies the secret to Purim.  We have a responsibility to understand that every single aspect of our life should be Godly.  God exists in the bathroom the same way He exists on the Temple Mount! Other religions reject physical pleasures in order to find the spiritual side of life.  Jews are commanded to get drunk on Purim!!

Purim’s holiness is exactly this idea. We must bring the most physical things in this world, wine, food, parties, etc, and understand that these too are from God.  “We must drink, whether it be a little or a lot, provided that our intentions are for God.” (The Rama quoted in the Halachic Text Shulchan Aruch 695:2 The Laws of the Purim Feast).

One can live his life as Amalek; one can live his life as a Jew.  As Amalek, God does not exist where he is not obviously present.  God does not exist where there is a natural explanation for a certain phenomenon.  God does not exist in the story of Esther.  God does not exist in physicality.

A Jew sees the world in the opposite light.  Nature is the blueprints for God’s world.  God is the reason why the Jews were saved from Haman.  We can reach God through alcohol just as we can reach God through a day of fasting and prayer!

This Shabbat we are commanded to remember that which Amalek did to us.  We must not let this idea of Amalek infiltrate our minds.  Everything that lives in this world owes its existence to God.  The very rules of science and evolution are divine.  Before Purim, we must remember to see God in the world.  Do not forget!

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!

– Jonathan Levine