What Is Shabbat Zakhor? Originally Published February 19-20, 2021.

This week is Shabbat Zakhor (שַׁבָּת זָכוֹר).  Our bar mitzvah will be leyning a special maftir aliyah from Parashat Ki Tetse (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), and chanting a special haftarah, 1 Samuel 15:1-34.  These readings are done on the Shabbat before Purim.  The Torah reading says:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt:  how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.   Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.  Do not forget!

The haftarah as well reminds us of Amalek.  Why are we reading this?  The term “Shabbat Zakhor” means “Shabbat of Remembrance.”  The first word of the maftir reading is zakhor.   

The tribe of Amalek (known to be pure evil through and through) attacked the Israelites as they came out of Egypt, right after they crossed the Sea of Reeds.  And they say that various evil individuals down through the ages have been descendants of Amalek.  Haman (the antagonist of the Purim story) was one of them.  (Others have been Romans, Torquemada, Hitler, Antiochus, Titus, Hadrian, et al.)

We are told to blot out the memory of Amalek, but never to forget him.  Evil-doers revel in emulating what previous evil-doers have accomplished, so we blot out their names.  In every generation, we are told, another evil-doer will arise.  We have just witnessed symbols of anti-Semitism stormed through our U.S. Capitol building.  Let us not fall prey again to Amalek.