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Dvar Torah – Mike Garmise, Shabbat Zachor, 13th Adar 5777, 11th March 2017
Up to a certain age, we generally tend to think that things will get better. Then inexorably, unconsciously, we find ourselves spouting ideas we heard our parents say, hard things that seemed so negative, like, “They’re all anti-Semites.” That’s usually when it sinks in: I am turning into my mother or father! Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
These thoughts come to mind as we read Parshat Zachor, smack in the middle of the unbelievably protracted Purim weekend, where a one-day holiday manages to commandeer five days: the Fast of Esther, treading water on Friday and Saturday, Purim Saturday night and Sunday, and Shushan Purim on Monday.
Parshat Zachor commands us to remember and to obliterate the memory of Amalek, one of 200 commands to “remember” in the Torah. The double commandment of remembering and obliterating a memory often seems paradoxical, if not impossible. If we remember we cannot obliterate a memory. If we obliterate a memory, we can’t remember it.
The solution that is offered by many commentators is that we are to remember what Amalek did – attacking the defenseless Israelites as they exited Egypt and (through a bit of creative linguistics) also rebelling against the idea that there is a God who oversees what happens in this world. So we are to obliterate their approach and their legacy from the world, and as it is impossible to know who is a genetically related Amalekite, we must root out and obliterate the negative Amalekite tendencies in ourselves.
That’s very pretty. In a way, it fits in with today’s efforts to be non-confrontational and non-judgmental. It is similar to the “games without winners” and prizes for everyone movement, among others. This would prepare kids for some utopian ideal where competition does not exist, and everyone gets a fair chance, and everyone is a winner. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make kids fit for life in the real world, despite all of its political correctness.
But such efforts failed because, as a rule, kids are not stupid. And they have certain urges. We see this all the time. Try to repress signs of aggression in our children or grandchildren, telling them not to hit, and not letting them watch the news or violent movies. Somehow, they still know what guns are for and they still have the urge to hit when they feel they have been wronged, or when they just feel like it. And I believe that within limits, this is healthy. We need a sense of right and of self-preservation.
This brings us smack back into today’s world. Almost all of us feel or have felt that we were wronged in some aspect of our lives. It’s only natural! Somebody gets what we wanted – why didn’t we get it? Don’t we deserve it just as much?
Add one more ingredient to this hodge-podge emotional recipe and we can understand the rising levels of chaos around us. That ingredient is unbridled entitlement with no obligations.
The cultural and social mores and restraints that evolved over centuries to keep society on an even keel are being jettisoned, and it is every person or group for himself.
For some groups, this feeling of entitlement is generally non-violent. Here are two diametrically opposed examples: the gay community and the women of the wall. They both want to go about their business because they feel they are entitled to, like everyone else.
But there’s a catch. The reactions they generate are far from non-violent. When an action runs counter to what we consider to be our core values, our reactions are often extreme. These extreme reactions, which may be born of truly deeply religious God-fearing emotions – are a form of Amalek taking over in us.
From another angle, let’s look at the anti-Semitic manifestations in the United States today. Antisemitism has long been in the realm of the “not politically correct.” But in a world where the entire establishment is a target for kicks in the butt, and regulations on our lives (for good and for bad) are being rescinded, the restraint called “politically correct” is just another butt to kick as hard as you can. So there is antisemitism, antimoslemism, antiblack, anti-anything that is not white, Christian and – most important – familiar. To hell with everyone else.
We also see it on our roads, in senseless attacks on others with knives, bottles, guns or fists, on TV talk shows where you can’t hear anyone because they are all screaming AT one another at the same time, and in the total disregard for the wellbeing of the elderly, the young, and everyone in between.
That is today’s Amalek and it is growing in and all around us, in Israel, in our neighbors, in our allies, in our enemies. Tonight and tomorrow we will symbolically kill and mangle Haman, the symbol of Amalek, but the real problem remains: how to push this evil genie back into the bottle and bring some sanity back into our public and private lives?
I would like to say to start with our leaders. Have them lower the flames a bit, but that is mission impossible. They are among the worst offenders and very proud of their pyromaniacal successes.
So we have to create our own circles of sanity, where we imbue all those coming into contact with us with a sense of controlled entitlement, based on acceptable behavior patterns and the same respect for others that we expect for ourselves. And hope that ripples from our circles extend outward.
Hey, but isn’t that what we do all the time? Yes, it is. And if we have succeeded in continuing to do so in the face of the rising Amalek around us – we are even stronger and better than we thought!
Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach