Immahlady prepared a dvar Torah that she shared with me. And I feel I have to share it with you. Although we have just said goodbye to Purim, we are unfortunately still reading headlines about Amalek every day. I just read about a disturbing incident of disunity in my former community, and I think that my friend has addressed it beautifully, albeit unintentionally.
I hope you had a beautiful Purim, and that the spirit of achdut can carry you through to an elevated and meaningful Pesach.
D’var Torah – Parshat Tzav/Shabbat Zachor –by Immahlady
When Parshat Tzav and Shabbat Zachor (the Shabbat prior to Purim) connect, we are given some special insights into how to combat our age-old enemy Amalek.
I’ll get there in about five steps.
Step 1: The Joke.
You’ve probably heard it before, but laugh anyway. A new rabbi comes to a well-established congregation. Every week a fight erupts during the service. When it comes time to recite the Shema, half of the congregation stands and the other half sits. The half who stand say, “Of course we stand for the Shema. It’s the credo of Judaism. Throughout history, thousands of Jews have died with the words of the Shema on their lips.” The half who remain seated say, “No. According to the Shulchan Aruch (the code of Jewish law), if you are seated when you get to the Shema you remain seated.”
The people who are standing yell at the people who are sitting, “Stand up!” while the people who are sitting yell at the people who are standing, “Sit down!” It’s destroying the whole decorum of the service, and driving the new rabbi crazy. Finally, it’s brought to the rabbi’s attention that at a nearby home for the aged is a 98-year-old man who was a founding member of the congregation. So, in accordance with Talmudic tradition, the rabbi appoints a delegation of three, one who stands for the Shema, one who sits, and the rabbi himself, to go interview the man.
They enter his room, and the man who stands for the Shema rushes over to the old man and says, “Wasn’t it the tradition in our synagogue to stand for the Shema?”
“No,” the old man answers in a weak voice. “That wasn’t the tradition.” The other man jumps in excitedly.
“Wasn’t it the tradition in our synagogue to sit for the Shema?”
“No,” the old man says. “That wasn’t the tradition.”
At this point, the rabbi cannot control himself. He cuts in angrily. “I don’t care what the tradition was! Just tell them one or the other. Do you know what goes on in services every week — the people who are standing yell at the people who are sitting, the people
who are sitting yell at the people who are standing—”
“That was the tradition,” the old man says. It’s funny, and we do laugh, but how often do we see this play out in families, at work, and yes, brace yourselves – in shuls – and between the different movements of
Step 2: The Parsha
The parsha opens with HaShem telling Moshe to instruct the Kohanim regarding the sacrifice of particular offerings. Normally, when HaShem gives such instructions, the Torah uses the words ‘Emor’ or ‘Dabair’, which mean ‘say’ or tell.’ Instead, this week we have Tzav, ‘command.’ Command is a stricter, more concrete word then ‘say or tell.’ And given that commandments laid out this week apply to the Kohanim, a group already uniquely dedicated to the service of HaShem, it seems odd choice of words. After all, they have already proven themselves more than willing to obey HaShem’s laws. Rashi explains ‘tzav’ appears before the description of the olah offering. Whereas the Kohain is entitled to a portion of most offerings, the olah offering is entirely consumed by fire. ‘Tsav’ is a message to the Kohain not to downplay or ignore the elevation offerings, even though the other offerings are more lucrative. The Kohain does not profit directly from this korban, but nevertheless, it is a requirement he cannot shirk. Why is the Olah offering so important?
Rambam explains that the olah offering was one from the entire community. And as such, this sacrifice serves as a means to unite the community, not just to each other, but to G-d. In doing so, making us one nation. In essence, we are commanded to unite ourselves as a nation.
Step 3: Zachor
The Shabbat before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor. In addition to the normal Torah Reading, we read a few extra psukim from Devarim reminding us that we must not forget Amalek. While B’nai Israel walked out of Egypt, the surrounding nations were
pretty freaked, G-d rescued Israel from the most powerful country on the planet – with signs and wonders, with plagues, and of course, the splitting of the sea.
These miracles acted as a deterrent preventing the other nations from attacking Israel during the Exodus. Everyone, that is, except Amalek, which snuck behind B’nai Israel to attack the stragglers – the elderly, the weak, and the infirm. In doing so, they show
not only a complete lack of human decency, but also blatant disregard for HaShem. They showed no fear of retribution from G-d, despite the fate of the Egyptians, but they were afraid to meet their victims head on.
Because they acted so distastefully, we are commanded to wipe the entire nation of Amalek – sparing no one. In the HafTarah we read how Saul defied G-d’s commandment and did not completely wipe out Amalek. This misstep leads us to Purim, when we read about Amalek’s direct descendent Haman.
Step 4: Purim
Listen to the words Haman uses to convince Achashverosh to annihilate the Jewish People. He says “There is one nation that is scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm.” Scattered and disbursed indicates that in
Persia, the Jews were very much as we are today – spread all over the land, not clustered into one community. The sages also explain that, like today, the Jews under Persian rule were just active in secular as well as non-secular activities, some more observant, some less so.
But Hashem and Haman agree in one critical point. No matter how we spread out and divide ourselves into categories, no matter how we separate ourselves from each other, Jews are – and always have been – one people, and have always shared in the same
fate. This is why Haman can justify genocide in response to his anger at Mordechai. As Rabbi Shalom Schwartz explains, the very goal of Israel’s enemies is to cripple the will of the nation through fear and suffering. But we see in the Torah reading on Shabbat and in the Megillah on Purim, that the Jews rally under attack from Amalek – fear and danger united us in Shushan, just as the Olah offering
united us. The key word here is united.
Step 5: Back to the Beginning
Like the Babylonians, Romans, and other historical enemies of the Jews, the Amalekites eventually dispersed through assimilation and marriage into other nations. Consequently, we can no longer identify Amalek as a people. But that does not mean
we don’t have the means to counter what Amalek stood for. Amalek leaves a calling card: It creates division and strife, sucking out hope and joy. Amalek tries to tear asunder what we have spent generations joining together, and will use any means necessary to break our hope – whether by blatant genocide or by sneaking in to murder the unarmed and defenseless. The best means of combating Amalek is to prove that no matter what, we will always remain an Am Echad, one nation.
How do we act as one nation?
To truly behave as one nation, we must believe that we are all connected, that we all belong to each other. And as long as we can be one nation, hope is not lost. This room – like the rest of world – appears to be full of individuals. But if we could see each person as limb extending from a shared body, we would understand that in order to keep the whole body safe, we must take care of each part as if they were all of equal importance. We cannot discount a limb because it refuses to move in the same direction of the others. The problem with that well-established shul in the joke is not that a difference of opinion exists. The old saying about two Jews make three opinions speaks volumes. That’s not the issue. The problem is when we use those disagreements to create rifts and arguments. Working together, as an Am Echad, is the only way to effectively combat Amalek.
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