Amalek and AIPAC
March 18, 2016
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Temple Emanuel – Denver, CO
In my former congregation in Albuquerque, one of the ways that we celebrated our community's 100th anniversary was by commissioning a sofer (scribe) to write a new Torah scroll.
When a sofer prepares to write, there is a special ritual that she or he goes through to check the quality of the quill and ink – to make sure that it will work properly. The scribe spells out the name AMALEK in Hebrew and then crosses it out.
This custom actually comes from a special section read on this Shabbat before Purim – Shabbat Zachor - Deuteronomy 25:17-19. The text reads as follows:
17 “Remember what Amalek did to you son the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off the weak ones who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when Adonai your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that Adonai your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.”
The reason that we read this particular passage on the Shabbat before Purim is that our tradition teaches that Haman was a descendant of the Amelekites – the arch-enemy of the Israelites. The commandment to blot out the memory of Amalek is tied into the sounding of the Grogger when Haman’s name is mentioned.
This is a puzzling piece of Torah. It tells us, at one and the same to remember what Amalek did AND to blot out his memory.
It’s almost as though we are receiving two contradictory messages at the same time – we’re told to both remember and forget; to blot out Amalek's name while preserving his actions for eternity. How can we do both? The Torah seems to be deliberately manipulating us. It just doesn't make sense.
I’m sure that many of you, like me, have been watching the rhetoric around the presidential primaries and feeling that, like the extra passages in this week’s parasha - perhaps we all have fallen down a rabbit hole. In particular, the circus atmosphere around the Trump campaign has brought political action to new depths of absurdity.
I am not here tonight to promote or denigrate any political candidates. That is not my role as a rabbi. I do feel, however, that when Jewish values are being trampled upon, it is my responsibility to point out when and where these abuses are taking place.
When a campaign appears to publicly attack and denigrate immigrants and Muslims, when humiliation and accusations of opponents’ weaknesses become major talking points, when self-aggrandizement becomes the basis for domestic, economic and foreign policy, when violence against opponents is encouraged and incited from the dais, there are many who feel that a line has been crossed between legitimate political discourse and Lashon Harah – or hateful speech.
Tomorrow night, I have been given the honor of leading Havdalah at this year’s AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC. I will be joining with over 15,000 other pro-Israel activists who come together in our nation’s capital each year to study, dialogue and lobby on behalf of the State of Israel. As always, AIPAC extends invitations to all of the candidates running for the highest office in our nation and most of the candidates have accepted – including Donald Trump. Unfortunately, I will not be in Washington when he speaks on Monday night – I am returning to Denver that evening.
Nonetheless, if you’ve been following the news, you probably know that there are over 1,000 rabbis, cantors Jewish communal leaders and lay people who have agreed in principle – not to protest when Trump speaks, but to leave the arena before he speaks - where they will gather together and study sacred texts on sinat chinam - baseless hatred - and Lashon Harah – hateful speech. I support this movement and, if I were to be in the arena on Monday night, I would join with my colleagues in their silent protest
Here are the guiding principles of this movement entitled “Come Together Against Hate”:
We come to AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC to support the strong and unbreakable bond between America and Israel. However, upon hearing that Donald Trump, along with other presidential candidates, will be speaking at AIPAC Policy Conference, we come together as Rabbis, Cantors, Jewish Professionals, and members of the Jewish community to repudiate the ugliness that Mr. Trump espouses.
We appreciate AIPAC’s commitment to bipartisanship and do not stand up to Donald Trump because of his party affiliation. We stand up because, as Jews, we must take a stand against hate. We denounce in the strongest possible terms the the bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and misogyny expressed by Mr. Trump, and violence promoted by him, at various points throughout his campaign. We refuse to stand idly by and let his hateful message become a part of the AIPAC Policy Conference.
AIPAC’s theme for Policy Conference is “Come Together.” Our grassroots effort spans many denominations, ages and political affiliations. We are committed to coming together against hate. We are committed to saying that Donald Trump does not speak for us or represent us, and his values are not AIPAC’s values. They are not the values of the Jewish community. They are not the values of our founders’ vision of an America where all citizens are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” (http://www.cometogetheragainsthate.com/#!about/c4nz)
On this Shabbat we read about how Amalek attacked the weakest and most vulnerable among the Israelites. We are told to do all that we can to stop this type of behavior. I believe in the political process and I also believe that everyone should participate and vote for whichever candidates represent their values. I also believe that we have a right and a responsibility to speak out when our Jewish values are being trampled upon. History has shown again and again that when specific ethnicities, religions and ideologies are singled out for attack, others soon follow. This week’s parasha, in reminding us to both blot out the memory of Amalek and never to forget his tactics of attacking those who are weakest rings as true today as it did 4,000 years ago.
I look forward to sharing my experiences at AIPAC with you from the pulpit and online.