This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei concludes with a rather odd paragraph:
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 the Eternal One, your G-d, grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Eternal One, your G-d is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deut 26:17-19)
Rabbis have debated for centuries what it means to “not forget,” to blot out the memory of a people. After all, isn’t “blotting out the memory” the same thing as forgetting? It is also curious why Amalek should be so disregarded when, in this very same Torah portion, we read, “You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land.”(Deut 23:8) Wouldn’t it make sense to want to blot out the memory of Egypt after four hundred years of slavery? Clearly, what the people Amalek did was distinctly different.
Amalek attacked the Israelites while they were weak – “famished and weary.” Worse yet, they attacked the stragglers, the women and children, the elderly, the disabled, who walked at the back, theoretically protected by the soldiers in the frontlines. I think that by telling us to blot out the memory of such a people, the Torah is teaching us that attacking the weak is the worst kind of behavior. Again and again the Torah tells us that it is our job to care for the widow, the stranger, and the orphan. We must visit the sick and care for the elderly. A people who do not respect this, are not worthy of memory, yet we MUST remember them because it is in remembering that we learn the lessons of the past. So this is a different sort of remembering that the Torah is teaching us – a process of continually denying an evil the power to re-emerge. We continually blot out this type of behavior from our world because its perpetuation poisons us all. We blot out the memory of Amalek to protect our society. We must never forget our responsibility to continually blot it out.
Cantor Sally Neff