Parshas Zachor: What Makes it So Unique?

By BJLIfe/Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Posted on 02/23/18

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What is it about Parshas Zachor that makes it so unique? What does the Torah want us to do with remembering Amalek to extinguish it’s memory - isn't it, at first glance, counter-intuitive? Also, why did Chazal ordain that we fulfill this Mitzvah on Shabbos?  Finally, how can we utilize this Mitzvah to gain inspiration in our Avodas Hashem?


Long ago, at the very beginning of time, different forces were unleashed in the universe.  Some were unleashed by Hashem, and some were unleashed by the actions of mankind.  There were forces of goodness of purity.  There were impure forces.


One such force was the Ohr HaGanuz – the hidden light.  There are figurative and physical understandings of this light – and both are true.  The complete physical aspects of the light were put away for Tzaddikim – in the future, but the figurative understanding is that Tzaddikim see that every event, every aspect of the universe – is controlled completely by Hashem.  Ain Od Milvado.  Understanding this, we see from one end of the universe to the other.


Man was different than the other animals.  Man was endowed with something called Bechira - freedom of choice.  He had the ability to choose good over evil. Man could utilize the impure destructive force in his choice toward evil.  Likewise, he could utilize pure forces in his choice to pursue good.


The Maharal, Rabbi Yehudah Lowe, was a master Talmudist and also was fully fluent in the esoteric knowledge of Kabballah.  In one of the Maharal’s works, Ohr Chadash, he explains (intro. P. 51) that the snake discussed in Bereishis represented the dark and impure destructive force in the world.  The evil Haman in the story of Purim also represented and utilized the primordial destructive force.  The sages of the Talmud, were well aware of this.

The Talmud (Chulin 139b) asks, “Haman – from the Torah – where can he be found?”  The Talmud answers with the verse in Bereishis 3:11 “Hamin (spelled the same) Ha-Aitz asher tzivisi levilti achal mimeno achalta?”   In context, it is from Hashem’s response to man – Did you eat from the tree that I commanded of you not to partake?


The Talmud, explains the Maharal, is not merely revealing a symmetrical siman.  No, it is revealing to us that this was the primordial destructive force which was unleashed – a force that defined Haman and the evil that was his forebear – Amalek.


Rav Chaim Vital explains (Aitz HaDaas Tov Vol. III p. 105) that Amalek has the very same letters as the Hebrew word – M’UKL – warped.  Amalek is the apogee of warped and distorted justice.  Warped and distorted – destructive thinking.  It is the anti-thesis of that which is pure and just.


Mordechai, on the other hand, represents a primordial force of goodness – the cure, the antidote to the destructive and evil force.  The Gemorah points this out as well.  “Mordechai – from the Torah – where can he be found?”  The Gemorah answers based on the pasuk in Shmos (30:23), “Take for yourself “pure myrrh – Mor Dror.”  This refers to the Ktores – upon which the Gemorah in Shabbos (89a) states that it stops death and destruction.

Parshas Zachor then is the remembering of our mission of the triumph of good over evil.  Haman’s plan of the wholesale murder and destruction of men, women and children who symbolize the concept of Hashem in the world – His Great Name -  was set aside.  How?  Through the actions of our leaders - Mordechai and Esther.


Esther represented self-sacrifice – giving of herself so that the people will live.  Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk – the Meshech Chochma explains that Esther’s original plan was to give her own life up – so that Klal Yisroel should survive.  That is why she never revealed her own destiny.

Rav Yeruchan Olshin shlita explains that Mordechai represents Chessed as well.  He looked after a kidnapped Beis Yaakov girl, for years – alone in the palace.  This chessed helped save Klal Yisroel at the time.


Why on Shabbos?  Because Shabbos represents the mission of Klal Yisroel – to build and to do the ratzon Hashem.  Shabbos has always been viewed as the symbol or flag of the Jewish nation.  Just as patriots look at their flag as more than a mere dyed cloth with fancy designs, so too is Shabbos viewed in the eyes of the Jewish people.  The Sheiltos of Rav Achai Gaon explains that Hashem instructed us to rest on Shabbos, just as He rested from all creative acts on Shabbos.  Observing Shabbos is a sign of our deep belief in Hashem – that it was He who Created the world and that we should Create as well – create rather than destroy and build.


There is also a debate among the Rishonim as to the underlying reason for the requirement of Parshas Zachor. The Sefer HaChinuch understands this Mitzvah as a means of encouraging the men of Klal Yisroel to battle to defend against an implacable enemy. His position is that women are, in fact, exempt from this Mitzvah.

Not so the Sefer Mitzvos Ketanos (Rav Yitzchok Ben Yosef 1210-1280), also known as the SMaK. He is of the position that the reason is to realize that Hashem saved us from the hand of Amalek and so that we will always be in awe of Him so that we not sin against His will. This position could perhaps be traced to the words of the Targum Yonasan on the verse “Lo Tishkach” (Shmos 25:19). He writes, “v’afilu l’yoma Malka d’meshicha lo tisnashi” – that it applies even to the times of Moshiach.


There is also a fascinating explanation of Yiras Shamayim, fear of Heaven that is provided by the author of the Nesivos Shalom. It is different than the explanation that is commonly given. We are afraid of losing our unique bond and relationship with Hashem – our dveikus to Him. He give a moshol, a parable. Imagine you are drowning in a vast ocean. A lifeguard jumps in and rescues you, You hold on to him for dear life – afraid to let go. You are afraid of losing that connection you have with him.

So too here, Yiras Shamayim, according to this explanation of the Nesivos Shalom is that you are afraid of losing that special relationship that you have with Him.

Aside from the aforementioned explanation of the Maharal of the cosmic significance of the battle between Klal Yisroel and the forces of destruction, we have now another explanation.  According to the combined SMaK’s and Nesivos Shalom’s explanation, we read Parshas Zachor to further cement the notion within us that Hashem saved us from the hand of Amalek and so that we will realize how precious our relationship with Hashem is and that we should be afraid of losing it. This will encourage us not to sin and do aveiros – which will distance ourselves from Him.

According to the Sefer HaChinuch (and also the Ramban’s explanation) the obligation is combined with the Mitzvah of destroying Amalek. Many people explain that Amalek represents the epitome of evil. The intent we should have then is that we must fight that which epitomizes evil in all that we can.  This fits with the Maharal's explanation

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com