Ki Tetze, Amalek and Erasing Memory

This week’s Torah reading, Ki Tetze, ends with a command to the Israelites regarding the nation of Amalek, “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. (Dev. 25:17-18)

Why the Israelites allowed “stragglers,” the most vulnerable among them, to be exposed in the rear as opposed to protected in the center, hasn’t escaped notice by our Sages, ancient and modern, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Verse 19 says, “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!” In Hebrew, timkheh et zeycher Amalek mi takhat haShamayim, lo tishkach!

Over the past several months we’ve seen calls to remove statues of Confederate generals and others deemed racist or exploitative, such as the one of President Teddy Roosevelt in front of the Museum of Natural History; to rename military bases school and other buildings; and in my own village of Malverne, to rename a street named for one of its most prominent and active founders, given the well-documented knowledge that he had occupied a high position in the KKK and participated in its activities.

As a rabbi and a human, it’s my job to speak out against injustice and stand up for the rights of others, but I’m not taking a position on this controversy; it’s complicated. Should these statues come down, or be moved, or should they be reminders of the history of the United States–in all its glory and disgrace? Nothing is perfect.

The Torah tells us to blot out the memory of Amalek, and later, to completely destroy Amalek, which is the beginning of the end of King Saul’s reign (see 1 Samuel 15:3).

What I think is more important are the lessons we can learn about memory and history. The Talmud (Bava Batra 21b) tells of a conversation about Amalek between King David and his nephew and general Joab, where they disagreed over the correct pronunciation of the root zayin–chaf–resh. Without vowels, it can be read different ways with very different meanings. King David read it as zaycher–memory, while Joab as zakhar-male descendants of Amalek. Joab went back to his childhood Bible teacher and asked, “How did you read this word to us? The teacher said to him: I read it as zeycher. The teacher had read it the proper way, but he failed to notice that his student had learned it incorrectly.

History has its place–the good, the bad and the ugly. As the debate over “erasing the past” continues, may we merit the wisdom to see various sides of the argument, and to make sure not only that we teach future generations, but we also notice what they’ve learned.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest Sermons

Yom Kippur: Hope, Despair And A Shining Sun
Yom Kippur: Hope, Despair And A Shining Sun

Yom Kippur 5783 Like many of the quotes and poems that make their way into use, a poem attributed to an anonymous person in a concentration camp, or in hiding, became somewhat of an urban legend, and has often been taken out of context, as well as not accurately...


Kol Nidre, 5783 On Rosh Hashanah, we began our prayers in the hopes of moving God, the Holy Blessed One, from kisei din, the throne or seat of judgment, to kisei rachamim, the throne or seat of compassion. Ten days later, here we are at the eve of Yom Kippur,...

Shema: Listening, Hearing and the Shofar

Rosh Hashanah 5783, Day 2 The word, “Shema.” What do you think of when you hear it? Usually, we think of “The Shema” as the verses we chant or sing from the book of Devarim, Deuteronomy, and in that context, it’s a bold theological statement. It is an idea which goes...

Latest Midrash HaZak

Kedoshim: Coming of Age in Holiness
Kedoshim: Coming of Age in Holiness

Photo and art by Rabbi Susan Elkodsi Kedoshim: Coming of Age in Holiness Rabbi Dr. Jill Hackell As I move through my 70s I find myself increasingly aware of my “senior” status in our society. Suddenly, by virtue of my age I am in a category that labels me vulnerable–I...

Parasha Vayakhel: A Mirror of the Holy Whole
Parasha Vayakhel: A Mirror of the Holy Whole

                                  Parasha Vayakhel: A Mirror of the Holy Whole Cherie Karo Schwartz  My Mom, Dotty Karo of blessed memory, was an ultimate crafter. She had a room stuffed with kaleidoscope-colored treasures she’d collected or had been gifted by...

Ki Tavo: Entering the Land and a New Age

Ki Tavo: Entering the Land and a New Age Charles Goldman This midrash speaks to me. Just as the people of Israel were about to embark on the next mega steps of their lives in the Holy Land, and Moses was intoning to them that they have “a heart to know, eyes to see,...

Latest Personal Blogs

Blessing My Bended Knees-A Poem
Blessing My Bended Knees-A Poem

This past week, I participated in a Ritualwell class with Alden Solovy on "Writing From One Word of Torah." I distilled 3 stream-of-consciousness prompts on the word "Baruch/Berekh," the root of which can mean "blessing' and "knee, into this poem. Blessing my bended...

The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives
The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives

Photo: The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives An email from My Jewish Learning about “A Woman of Valor” prompted me to pivot the next evening’s planned adult learning session to looking at these 22 verses from Mishlei, the Book of Proverbs. These verses...

Live Long and Prosper?
Live Long and Prosper?

By Oklahoma Heritage Association, Gaylord-Pickens Museum - Author, CC BY-SA 3.0, Live Long and Prosper? January 5, 2022 began the third year of the seven and a half-year cycle of Daf Yomi, the practice of...

Pin It on Pinterest