Remembering Amalek and being festive amid terror
This week, Jews will observe Shabbat Zachor. We observe Shabbat (the Sabbath) every week, but this week is special. Zachor means “remember.” What is unique that we are remembering this week and why?
There is an extra reading of the Torah from Deuteronomy 25:17-19, “Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when you came forth out of Egypt; how he met you by the way, and struck at your rear, all who were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around, in the Land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it.”
We receive God’s injunction both to remember and blot out the remembrance of Amalek as a commandment. But what about where God says, “when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around, in the Land which (God) gives you as an inheritance to possess.” Are we there yet?
We read this on the Shabbat before Purim, the penultimate Jewish biblical experience when Haman tried to wipe out all the Jewish people. Why does it all resonate so much this week, in particular?
You've probably heard about a recent attack, described as a pogrom, that Israelis inflicted upon a Palestinian Arab village; burning cars, homes and injuring people. One Palestinian Arab was killed. You probably heard because there was a worldwide outcry calling on Israel to arrest and sentence the perpetrators. Some even said that Israel should make monetary compensation for the hateful and criminal acts done by the Israelis. I don’t know of a precedent for a country actually paying for damages of something done by individual citizens.
What you may not have heard about is that Israeli leaders – from the prime minister and the president, to the IDF chief of staff, and many, many more – have all condemned these acts.
Yet, what you almost for sure did not hear about is the increased wave of terror that’s been taking place in Israel.
Fourteen Israelis have been killed in the past month. In less than two weeks, two families each buried two children, victims of Palestinian Arab hate and terror. You also probably didn’t hear about the 27-year-old American Jew who came to the Land for a wedding, and ended his life interred in the same Land he loved. “Old news” from a month ago was about the mass murder of seven Israelis on Shabbat in Jerusalem outside of a synagogue.
These recent terror acts have hit a collective nerve. Nothing justifies individuals taking justice into their own hands, terrorizing others, damaging property and causing injuries and death. As bad as that is, and it is –there’s no justification – Israelis are losing patience and are at a breaking point.
One friend said that, while not a frequent occurrence at all, she always abhors when Israelis take the law into their own hands against Palestinian Arabs. But this made her realize that now, because of the recent wave of terror, she’s less sympathetic to the damage and loss caused by the Israelis.
Another noted the many funerals in the past weeks and he’s beginning to feel no mercy for Palestinian Arabs. But he also noted that he didn’t like to feel that way, and it scared him. This is part of the conflict that Israelis live with: We don’t like it when individuals take the law into their own hands and commit hateful acts, but we like it less that our neighbors are trying to kill us, and many have died.
A Christian friend who lives in Jerusalem said that while he is overseas in the country of his birth, Israel has become home and he looks forward to returning soon. Stresses and all.
The fact is that Israel is at war. We were born in war and have not known a day of peace, ever. Enemies still want to destroy us. But we have an army and it’s very good at tracking down and eliminating or arresting terrorists. Israel is the start up nation, not the vigilante nation. Events like these “reprisals” are rare. Maybe that’s why the world condemns them, because they stand out so much.
But it’s very hard for an Israeli to sit and listen to world leaders pontificate in their safe capitals and at the UN about Israel’s responsibility for this one hateful, violent act. It’s especially glaring because these world leaders are not denouncing the Palestinian Arabs, the Palestinian Authority or Hamas for the constant violence, threats of violence and incitement to violence that comes from their leaders.
It's not only that world leaders are screaming when Israeli citizens do something horrible, and that it is roundly denounced by Israeli leaders. The world is mute, if not blind and most definitely dumb, when it comes to Palestinian Arabs killing Israeli Jews, week after week. Rather than any denouncements from their leaders, the Palestinian Authority, its leaders, Hamas, their clergy and average people on the street incite and celebrate them.
In the Book of Esther (Chapter 8), after uncovering Haman’s evil plot to destroy the Jews, the King says while he was not able to undo the decree that went out to all 127 provinces, he would issue a new decree. He authorized Jews in each city to assemble and defend themselves, even to destroy, kill and eliminate any people living in provinces that are hostile to the Jews: Basically, they were granted royal consent to wage a total war against any enemy.
While empowering, the differences today are profound. We have our own state. We have an army, police, secret service, courts and, while we are threatened daily, we do not need the decree of a gentile ruler to protect ourselves. We also live under the law and don’t have license to take the law into our own hands.
Yet, overseas, where Jews are feeling the pain and fear of increased anti-Semitic acts and threats, as well as anti-Semites celebrating a "Day of Hate," there’s much less autonomy. I don’t imagine there’s any president, prime minister, governor, mayor, or king in the world today who will sign a decree for the Jewish people to defend themselves among the anti-Semites, and despite the very real threats. Nor am I suggesting it. But there is a biblical parallel of Jews in the diaspora being threatened now, and who may derive inspiration from the salvation of the Jews of Persia 2,500 years ago.
During this festive season when we celebrate our redemption 2,500 years ago, we are also obliged to remember the evil that persists, the physical and ideological descendants of Amalek, who we must blot out and defeat. But that’s why we have an army. Individuals should celebrate the miracles, but not become vigilantes.
Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. Throughout his life and career, he has become a respected bridge between Jews and Christians and serves as president of the Genesis 123 Foundation. He writes regularly on major Christian websites about Israel and shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He is host of the popular Inspiration from Zion podcast. He can be reached at email@example.com.