President Zelensky has no need to be reminded this Shabbat of the cruelty of Amalek. The inhumane and indiscriminate attacks made by Russia on civilians, even a children’s hospital, graphically conjures up the attack by Amalek on the most vulnerable section of the Israelite camp. We recall that brutality in this week’s special Maftir of Parashat Zachor. The Israelites won their battle against the Amalekites, who retreated, defeated. The direct battle against Amalek continued in later generations. However, even after the Amalekite nation disappeared, Amalek came to symbolize the ugly face of evil in the world. The battle against him continues.
How does the Torah tell us to respond?
In three concise verses we are told: “Remember what Amalek did…erase the memory of Amalek…do not forget.”
On the one hand, we are told to remember in order to forget – so that the memory of Amalek is blotted out from beneath the heavens. Yet on the other hand, the Torah says: Do not forget! It’s a bit like saying: Don’t think of a pink elephant! You have to think of one in order to know what you shouldn’t think about!
How do we understand this? Are we to remember or are we to forget?
We must first appreciate that there is a distinction between forgetting and erasing.
When something is forgotten that matter is still in existence. It has simply receded from our consciousness. When something is erased, it has been deleted completely. Matters that are forgotten are just hidden. Matters that are erased have been obliterated.
We can now understand what the Torah is telling us to do.
Remember – Zachor – what Amalek did! Amalek’s ideological heirs are those tyrants across the generations, who wreak havoc on humanity, especially the Jewish people. We are told that we must hold on to the memory of Amalek. If we forget what Amalek did, we run the risk of him resurfacing. Our challenge is to erase Amalek. We must never relent in eradicating Amalek and all forms of evil. We cannot rest until evil has ended. As the philosopher, George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Do not forget! – Lo Tishkach! We must not think that anti-Semitism or other forms of evil can go away by themselves. If we simply forget, sooner-or-later, they rear their ugly head, once again. Our mandate to remember is for all time – until we have succeeded in eradicating what Amalek stands for in this world. That way, there will no longer be a need to remember.