SALT - Friday, 12 Adar 5777 - March 10, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Chazal characterize Amalek as an arrogant, cynical nation.  The Midrash Tanchuma, as cited by Rashi (Devarim 25:18), compares Amalek’s unprovoked attacked on Benei Yisrael to a person who jumps into a tub of scalding hot water in order to cool it off.  While nobody else dared to enter the water, this individual was prepared to suffer some burns in order to make the tub appear less intimidating.  Similarly, the Midrash explains, the nations of the world stood in awe of Benei Yisrael after the miracles of the Exodus (Shemot 15:14-16), and Amalek set out to assuage their fears and assure them that Benei Yisrael were vulnerable.  As everyone else marveled at Benei Yisrael’s emergence onto the world stage, Amalek looked on cynically, with arrogant disdain, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that this nation was anything special.

            Rav Aryeh Tzvi Frommer, in his Eretz Tzvi – Moadim, points to Amalek’s quality of arrogance as the reason why we prepare for the Purim celebration through the reading of Zakhor on the preceding Shabbat.  This reading presents the command to constantly remember Amalek’s assault on our ancestors and the obligation to eradicate that nation.  Symbolically, Rav Frommer suggests, this command represents the need to abolish our own arrogance and conceit, our natural tendency to look down on others.  This annihilation of our inner “Amalek” is a necessary prerequisite to the Purim festivity, which, to a large extent, revolves around the theme of joyous camaraderie and friendship.  When the Megilla (9:16) speaks of the Jews in Persia “assembling” to defend themselves (“nikhalu ve-amod al nafsham”), Rav Frommer writes, this refers to the emotional bonds of friendship that were strengthened before the Jews went out to wage war against their foes.  In commemoration of this “assembly,” we are required to send one another gifts, an obligation famously explained by the Manot Ha-levi (commentary to the Megilla by Rav Shlomo Alkabetz) as intended to enhance the feelings of friendship and camaraderie among Jews.  However, no gift will succeed in forging strong bonds of friendship when one of the parties is plagued by arrogance and condescension.  As long as we look down on other people with feelings of pride and superiority, the desired goal of “nikhalu,” of joyous fraternity among Jews, will never be realized.  And thus Purim is preceded by Shabbat Zakhor, when we read of the command to abolish the arrogance and cynicism of Amalek from our minds and our hearts.

            We might add that this theme perhaps helps explain the Gemara’s famous ruling in Masekhet Megilla (7b), “A person is obligated to become inebriated on Purim until he cannot distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordekhai’.”  The idea underlying this statement, perhaps, is that Purim is the time to work on avoiding judgment, to put an end to the all-too-common tendency to evaluate and scrutinize other people.  The Purim festivity is intended, at least in part, to lead us to the point where we love and respect all our fellow Jews, without discriminating between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordekhai,” without any judgment or scrutiny.  The humor, levity and inebriation create an atmosphere that enables us to fully enjoy the company of other people, and pay no attention to what we might like or dislike about them.  On Purim, as we celebrate the miraculous, eternal survival of the Jewish People, we are to look fondly and lovingly upon each and every member of our nation, and to that end we are commanded to feast and rejoice to the point where we make no distinctions between “Haman” and “Mordekhai,” and truly respect, appreciate and cherish all our fellow Jews for who they are, without analyzing or dissecting their conduct or character in any way.