News From Ramaz
By Rabbi Justin Pines, MS Mashgiach Ruchani
This Shabbat, the Shabbat before Purim, is Shabbat Zachor. We have a Torah mitzvah to remember Amalek and what they did to us, and, as a special maftir, our brothers and sisters around the world will publicly read of the mitzvah to remember and wipe out Amalek, as we prepare to read the story of Haman, a descendant of Amalek.
What's so terrible about Amalek, that they are our biggest enemy? Our total opposite?
In describing Amalek, the Torah says: וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱלֹקים - Amalek did not have Yirah towards God. As we have discussed, Yirah is not an easy word, but for our purposes, let's say there are two parts of Yirah - the basic level is fear of God. We act a certain way because we are scared of God. And the higher level of Yirah is awe of God. Woah. God is the Creator and Master of the Universe. That affects how I approach the world. Amalek showed none of this. The whole world knew of God's wonders in saving the Jews from Egypt. Every nation was scared of the Israelites because God was with them, but Amalek didn't care. They were not afraid of God, and so they attacked our ancestors. They had no Yirah; they ignored God completely.
We are the opposite. If Amalek completely ignores God's awesomeness, our purposes is to be completely aware of God's awesomeness. We must pause to think and understand what it means that Hashem was, is and always will be, that Hashem created the universe and knows all, that Hashem is our partner in improving the world. If you look at the pesukim just before Parashat Zachor, the Torah speaks of honesty in business practices. What does being honest in business have to do with Amalek? Someone who lives with Yirat Hashem would never dare to even think about lying or cheating in business, even if they wouldn't get caught. Because it is not just about Yirah of being caught by a human, it is about Yirat Hashem.
Living with a constant sense of Yirah is not always easy. Sometimes, it's easier when times are bad. When we are scared or in trouble or someone is not well, it may be easy to turn to Hashem and to pray. But what about when times are good? When we accomplish that goal we set for ourselves, sometimes it's easy to think about how great we are and to forget Hashem. Or sometimes even when we are doing Mitzvot, we forget about Hashem: it is possible to learn Torah without being in awe of Hashem; to pray without Yirat Shamayim; to help a friend without remembering Hashem.
If we are to defeat Amalek in the world, we must first defeat Amalek in ourselves. In both the lowest of the low and the highest of the high, we must let God in.
Perhaps this is another reason why we read Parashat Zachor just before the Purim story. Hashem's name may not appear in Megillat Esther, but it is our obligation to see Hashem in the story, to feel and act with Yirah towards Hashem. May Hashem help us to develop our Yirah as we prepare for Shabbat Zachor and Chag Purim.