Repost and edited from March 10, 2022
This week is Shabbat Zachor - shabbat of remembrance. It is one of the 11 “special shabbatot” of the Jewish year (outside of Rosh Chodesh). It is the Shabbat in which we are reminded to forget “Amalek.” Amalek is commonly thought of as the arch nemesis of the Israelites in every generation, and we inherit this special shabbat to remember to forget them. Oy.
But Who is Amalek? In Genesis 36:12, the original Amalek was a boy born to Eliphaz, son of Esau, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, on his dad’s side. On his mom’s side, all we know is his mother, Timna, the daughter of the chief of Seir, the hill lands east of the Jordan. According to midrash, she was denied conversion by Abraham himself and, according to the ancient rabbis, Abraham was actually punished for this exclusion, telling us that she was indeed someone who genuinely wanted into the community and should have been allowed in. This exclusion mirrors the exclusion of Esau, Amalek’s grandfather as well.
For Amalek, to be from ancestors who were excluded from Jewishness, we may end up with a different take on him and his descendants being cast as the villains of the Israelites. Jews have been using this trope (which we can resist) for a long time to do terrible things, including on Purim itself in 1994 which garnered international solidarity, despite a lack of nuance or actual connection to the character or lineage of Amalek.
As such, we need to again learn from the lessons of the Book of Esther and flip the script. As we lead up to Purim this coming Saturday night (party!), Monday evening (megillah!), and baking for your neighbors and geogroups (Tuesday and Wednesday - on your own, make it a surprise!), how might we begin to re-experience those whom we have been taught to think of as enemies with more compassion and understanding? Using a trauma lens, using transformative justice and abolitionist teachings - for the death and destruction at the end of the story need not be repeated, and perhaps is even there to show us so clearly what not to do. As we say on Purim - let us turn things upside down.
Purim Same’ach - see you for a helluva party on Saturday night/motzei Shabbat and for megillah reading on Monday evening! And don’t forget to redistribute your wealth on Purim - it is a specific mitzvah!