D’var Torah for September 1, 2017

This week’s Torah portion contains 72 of the 613 commandments. As we walk our way through the month of Elul and begin the process of spiritual preparation leading up to the High Holy days, I found the juxtaposition of two of these highlights a very interesting and important spiritual lesson.

In Deuteronomy 23:8, we read, “You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land.” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, in his weekly D’var Torah podcast, points out that that can be a difficult commandment to obey. After all, we remember our suffering under Egyptian slavery every day in our worship services and during the holiday of Passover. The Egyptians tried to commit genocide. It’s hard not to hate a people that have tried to destroy you.

Hate is a destructive force, though, and it hurts both parties. When we hate someone, we actually give that person even MORE power in our lives. Hate raises our blood pressure, increases stress and anxiety, can lead to headaches and poor circulation. Research shows that even one five-minute episode of anger can impair your immune system for over six hours. Can you imagine the effects of a lifetime of hate or anger? Nobody has the right to have this kind of power over us. And so we have to try to forgive – if not for the sake of the one who has hurt us, than for our own peace.

It’s all well and good to forgive, but how can we protect ourselves from being hurt again by the one whom we have so graciously granted our forgiveness? The parshah concludes with this memorable commandment, “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt – how, undeterred by fear of G-d, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when Adonai your G-d grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that Adonai your G-d is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” We are supposed to remember to forget Amalek. A bizarre commandment if ever there was one. When we connect these two mitzvot, I think we can see an important insight. Perhaps the lesson is that we must forgive – we should not live a lifetime of hatred – but we must not forget. We cannot allow a toxic person to do us more harm. We must remember who they are and what they are capable of, and not give them the power to hurt us again.

Shabbat Shalom,
Cantor Sally L. Neff