The Evil Within

When the Torah commands us to eradicate Amalek, it is really asking us to recognize our own potential for evil

The Torah is obsessed with memory. Again and again,we are commanded to remember our experiences and toact in ways that honor those memories.

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Most famously, the Torah enjoins us repeatedly to rememberthat we were slaves in the Land of Egypt and that Godliberated us from slavery. Much of the Torah is anattempt to discern the implications of thatexperience: We were slaves and know the bitter tasteof estrangement and degradation, therefore we set outto create a society in which no one is estranged ordegraded. Jewish memory is thus the source of Jewishethical passion. The culmination of Jewish ethics isthe commandment to "love the stranger" (Leviticus19:34) because we ourselves "know the feelings of thestranger" (Exodus 23:9).

But the Exodus is not the only story we are enjoinedto remember. At the end of this week's portion, weread a passage also recited on the Shabbat before Purim. This time, we are called upon to remember the horrificbehavior of the Amalekites:

"Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, afteryou left Egypt--how, not fearing God, he surprisedyou on the march, when you were famished and weary,and cut down all the stragglers in your rear"(Deuteronomy 25: 17-18).

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