Ki Tetzei

“You shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget” Deuteronomy 25: 19


How do we both remember and annihilate the memory of Amalek from under heaven? 

We repeat the story of Amalek and his attack on the Israelites the Shabbat before Purim. On the festival itself, we hear in the Megillah about the slaughtering (in self-defence) of the enemies of the Persian Jewish communities and those associated with Haman, who is identified as a descendent of Amalek. Many, though by no means all, are left uncomfortable by the recounting of this self-preserving bloodbath. 

Self-defence is of course important and preserving one’s life through self-defence is supported in Jewish law. Yet the rallying cry against Amalek could be seen to be calling for genocide and total obliteration of the enemy — and this is not what I think Judaism asks of us. 

I’d like to suggest that instead we are meant to remember how Amalek fought in the battle — attacking the weak and vulnerable — and are asked to remove from human memory any practice like this. 

Rather than demanding we wipe out a particular enemy entirely, we are being asked to wipe out the possibility of anyone remembering such genocide, so that future generations have no reason to recall behaviour such as Amalek’s; yet we still read about it in the annals of history in order to remind them of how not to behave. 

Just as national Holocaust Memorial Day asks us to remember the Shoah along with other genocides, so that society might avoid the same horrors again in the future, perhaps Deuteronomy asks us not to forget what was done by Amalek so that it should not happen again — and therefore dreams of a time when we will have removed any living memory of Amalek-like behaviour from under heaven.

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