Tomorrow, as part of the shabbos morning davening (prayer services), people will listen to a few psukim (verses) read aloud from the Torah.
Hearing these psukim is considered so important in charedi circles that a special reading is held later in the day at many shuls, for all the women who had to be home with their kids while their husbands went to daven in the morning.
The entire reading takes about five minutes, but it’s important enough to have women streaming into shuls all over Boro Park (and possibly other neighborhoods, but I’m not familiar with them) as they take a break from their shabbos seudah and leave their kids at home with their husbands (or with their older daughters who went to shul in the morning).
The psukim that are so important for everyone to hear, of course, are Parshas Zachor.
This translation doesn’t convey the intensity of the psukim, whether one reads them silently or hears them with the proper trop (musical notation).
“Timcheh es zecher Amalek mitachas hashamayim!” Destroy any memory or remnant of Amalek from under the heavens!
It’s a call to genocide, as charedi communities define it. Wipe out Amalek! If you see an Amaleki, it’s a mitzvah to kill him!
There are other interpretations, of course. There’s the allegorical one: wipe out the memory of Amalek’s actions, and never let anything like that happen again. That’s a good, wonderful interpretation – a sentiment I can get behind.
But when a nation who sees their history as beleaguered and oppressed remembers – “never forget!” – only when it applies to themselves, this passage becomes a terrible, terrible set of verses.
When a group of people experiences oppression, the way they respond says a lot about them.
Will they circle the wagons? Will they become more and more insular, shutting out everything and everyone and proclaiming “we will survive regardless of who gets mowed down along the way”?
Or will they empathize with other oppressed peoples and vow to stamp out all inequity?
Will they vow to “wipe out” people or ideas? Will they focus their murderous anger on descendants of their oppressors, or will they focus their murderous anger on oppression in any form it appears in?
There’s a common perception of Jews as liberal and social-justice-oriented. Non-charedi Judaism tends to fit that perception. Non-charedi Judaism tends to look at our past experiences of oppression, from the Biblical accounts to the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition to Chmielniki’s pogroms to the Holocaust, and to take up the battle cry of “never again!” for every other oppressed group.
Charedi Judaism is just the opposite. Charedi Judaism responds with fear and distrust of everyone else, with repeated mantras of “they hate us and always will.” Charedi Judaism closes its eyes and ears to others’ suffering so it can focus on its own.
I want a wider world.
I am a Jew, yes.
But I want a wider world.
My promise on this week of Parshas Zachor:
“Zachor es asher asah lecha Amalek” – I will remember the persecutions that Jewish people have suffered throughout history, I will remember the persecutions others have suffered throughout history, I will remember that across the world millions suffer every day, I will remember the literal or allegorical account of one nation attacking another from the rear at its weakest point –
“Timcheh es zecher Amalek mitachas hashamayim” – I will do all I can to stamp out inequities of every kind, I will do all I can to contribute to a world where persecution and oppression and discrimination and suffering are nothing but a vague memory –
“Lo tishkach” – but I will not forget. I will never forget how easy it is to allow evil to overcome the world, I will never forget how easy it is to nurse one’s own pain at the expense of others, I will never forget that another’s joy and freedom is just as much worth fighting for as my own.
I will belong to a wider world.