Putin IS Amalek
Putin IS Amalek- Purim 2022
Rabbi Bonnie Koppell
Shabbat Zachor- the Shabbat of Remembering. That’s the special name given to this Shabbas, the Shabbat before Purim. So what, exactly, are we supposed to be remembering? Each year we read an additional Torah portion from the book of Deuteronomy describing how the people of Amalek attacked our Israelite ancestors during their wandering in the wilderness. What made this attack so memorably despicable? They attacked from the rear, preying on the women, and children, the elderly and the weakest elements, in defiance of any convention of what we might think of as “just warfare.” The text continues- they had no awe of God, no fear.
Their actions were so awful, that the Torah decries them and instructs us that when we enter into and settle in the land, we should blot out their memory. The section concludes, “And don’t forget.” It is customary to stamp our feet as we read the words, “Timcheh et Zecher Amalek- erase their memory.”
Why do we read this specifically on the Shabbat before Purim? And why would we want to remember these vile actions? And if we’re still talking about it, we surely haven’t wiped out their memory! And how could we forget, anyway?
Well, Haman is considered to be a descendant of Amalek. Had the Israelites completely destroyed the Amalekites, we would not have had to contend with him. I think we are instructed to remember- to know- that in every generation, there will be evil leaders who prey on the weakest non-combatants, and we need to be prepared to destroy them.
It feels like no coincidence to be reading this text this week. I’d like to wipe out the memory of Vladimir Putin, the latest vicious leader to wage war with no sense of respect for helpless non-combatants. Just as it was a mitzvah to destroy the Amalekites, it is a mitzvah in this moment to destroy Putin and his campaign of terror.