Posted on March 23, 2011
by Max Bartell
Even though I have been a student at a Jewish day school since kindergarten, I still occasionally find it difficult to relate to a particular Parsha. When I first read through Parshat Tzav, nothing really jumped out at me. However, upon reading the Parsha a second time, this time at a deeper level, a number of interesting nuances jumped out at me. First of all, this Shabbat is also Shabbat Zachor. After their liberation from the land of Egypt, the Jewish people faced a long and treacherous path through the Sinai desert to reach Israel. As was customary, all of the men who were able-bodied and strong enough, traveled in the front to repel attackers while those unable to fight rounded out the nation. While the front of the nation was prepared to ward off any potential attackers, the latter portion was not in as advantageous of a position. When the nation of Amalek (one of B’nai Yisrael’s biggest enemies) decided to attack the passing people, they did not attack from the front. Instead, they attacked from the rear, where they massacred the defenseless Israelites. After this battle, the Torah tells us that we must “Remember what Amalek did to you upon your departure form Egypt. You shall erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens, you shall not forget.” Here the message is clear: do not forget what the nation of Amalek has done to our people. Upon reading this a second time, I realized something interesting and mildly disturbing. This is one of, if not the, only times that we, as Jews are expressly commanded to do something against the Ten Commandments. On the two tablets that Moshe brought down from Sinai, it expressly says, “Thou shalt not murder.” However, we are expressly told that we must “erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens.” Upon further research I realized that this textual discrepancy is not a new one by any means. In fact, historians have come to a consensus with regard to the interpretation that best fits the situation. In the quoted verses, the “memory of Amalek” is actually the hatred and violence that Amalek spread everywhere they went. Subsequently, the Torah is not telling us to take the life of another person, but instead to perpetuate tolerance, respect and remembrance in the place of the hatred and violence.
This parsha also has an interesting relationship to Purim, the holiday it directly precedes. It is widely believed that Haman, the villain in the Purim story, is a descendant of the nation of Amalek. Not only are we commanded to remember what Amalek was able to accomplish, but also to rejoice in the fact that Haman failed in his attempt to murder the Jews of Shushan. Furthermore, Shabbat Zachor is not only a time to remember the atrocities committed by Amalek, but also a time to remember the atrocities such as the Holocaust and the Spanish Inquisition. This past summer, with Eastern Europe/Israel Pilgrimage Group 9, I was privileged enough to visit the concentration and death camps in Poland and the Czech Republic. Throughout the entire two weeks in Eastern Europe, I wore an Israeli flag. Not only was this a source of comfort for me, but it was my way of remembering what Amalek, the Spanish, and the Nazis did to our people, and our extraordinary survival.
The final connection that Shabbat Zachor has to Parshat Tzav is the establishment of the Ner Tamid, or “everlasting light.” There is much more to the Ner Tamid than just a light. It was the duty of the Kohanim to vigilantly keep watch and ensure that the light didn’t go out. Today the Ner Tamid symbolizes much more than just a source of light, it represents the Neshamah, or spirit of the Jewish people. The light also represents the Jewish people as a whole. Like this small light, the Jewish people are resilient and, despite numerous attempts to eradicate us, we have remained strong and vibrant. It is extremely important that now, when the Conservative movement is in a precarious position, we continue to stay strong and devoted to Judaism.
As this Shabbat is Shabbat Zachor, it is only fitting that we remember with love and cherish the memories of Ehud, Ruth, Yoav, Elad, and Hadas Fogel. The Fogel family was viciously stabbed to death in their West Bank home this past Shabbat, when one or more Palestinians broke into their home. May they be remembered by all the Jewish people and may their memory be for a blessing.