Parshat Tetsaveh-Zakhor


(Dedicated to the Memory of Eva Haberman – a beautiful human being)

‘Memory is the diary we all carry with us.’

Oscar Wilde

‘Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.’

Dr Seuss

Memory, and particularly our ability to analyse the past, distinguishes human beings from all living creatures. We’re the sum total of our actions, an accumulation of our individual and collective remembering. When ability enables us to not only reflect on the past but to ‘process it’, anticipating – and if necessary changing the course of – our future, we emulate the Divine.

There are at least 2 connections between Parshat Tetsaveh-Zakhor and Purim. The first is the commandment to remember (Zakhor) the deeds of Amalek and the other, a bit less obvious, relates to the clothing of the High Priest.

In synagogues around the world, the Shabbat before Purim is Shabbat Zakhor where we’re commanded to read about the unprovoked attack by the tribe of Amalek on our early ancestors just after their release from Egyptian bondage. Haman, son of the Aggagite (Esther 3:1), was also a descendant of Amalek (I Sam 15:32).

A separate more tenuous Purim connection to Parshat Tetsaveh-Zakhor is found in the Talmud’s commentary on Megillat Esther (TB Megillah 12a). Referring to the lavish 180-day party hosted by King Ahashverosh where he displayed ‘the vast riches of his kingdom and the splendour (tiferet) of his majesty’ (Esther 1:4), the rabbis drew a link to Tetsaveh which describes the High Priest’s clothing ‘for honour and splendour’ (l’khavod Ul’tifaret – Exodus 28:2).

This parallel wording implied Ahashverosh wore at his party the captured High Priest’s garments, brought back from Israel by Nebuchadnezzar who’d destroyed the 1st Temple in 586 BCE.

In these two cases, memory was used negatively. The first, reminding ourselves of Amalek’s injury and of our everlasting obligation to annihilate them; and the second, Ahashverosh’s cynical reminder to his guests from throughout the Persian Empire, of the lost independence of the Jews who, recently in exile, longed to return to their conquered homeland.

How we cope with unhappy memories is an enormous challenge! The Jewish nation whose history is pockmarked with uncountable tragedies and sadness, know this as well as any people alive today. The first step is to focus on the good rather than the bad.

Thus, G-d’s command to remember Amalek can be alternatively described as a call throughout the ages for vigilance, to justly respond against unwarranted attacks. While Ahashverosh’s efforts to humiliate his Jewish subjects and prevent them from returning to Judea, proved to be a plan soon overturned.

G-d, whose name is spelled Yud and Hey, Vav and Hey, is the Originator of all creation, existing beyond any sense of time. Thus, within those 4-letters, one finds the Hebrew words for Past, Present & Future. When we live aware of our past and its impact on the present, and when we design our future based on right ideals, we express our G-d-like character.

Purim, a drama where the Divine Presence was hidden while Esther & Mordekhai rescued the Jews, is a festival where for one perfect moment we see our vulnerability in G-d’s eyes, but remember that history can be changed by acting our part too.