Parashat Terumah/Shabbat Zakhor

March 1, 2012 | Filed in: Divrei Torah, News, Shmot

By Rabbi Jaron Matlow

On the Shabbat before Purim we read the special Maftir reminding us of our obligation to FORGET AMALEK. On Shabbat Zakhor, the Sabbath of remembrance, we read (Deuteronomy 25:17-19):

Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when you came forth out of Egypt; how he met you by the way, and struck at your rear, all who were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary… Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around… you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it.

The name Amalek carries a special meaning in Jewish tradition. It is used to refer to the arch-enemy of the Jewish people at the time in question. We have a tradition that that Haman is a descendent of Amalek. We have referred to Hitler (yimah shemo – may his name be erased) as descended from Amalek.

What did Amalek do that was so horrible that we want to remember to erase his name? He struck at the most vulnerable members of the Israelites, in the rear of their procession. This preying on the weak and vulnerable is as despicable today as it was then. While in most of the world, Amalekites attacking the poor and vulnerable can be found, we are fortunate that this is not the case in the United States.

Rather, the poor and vulnerable in our country are taken advantage of by people whose only priority seems to be greed. I continue to find it amazing how so many people claim to be ethical, moral people, yet let their greed run rampant. Sadly, this hypocrisy is par for the course these days. But, is this new? What can we do about it?

Greed is nothing new. In the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, we find in the beginning of the book of Isaiah (1:11, 16, 17), that God was very angry with the corruption and greed occurring. God said:

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me?… Cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the orphan, plead for the widow.

God is much less interested in our corrupt offerings than in our taking care of those who need help. This very prevalent theme in the Prophets is as critical today as it was 2500 years ago.

Turning the corner on greed is laid out in Megillat Ester, as Mordechai writes (Esther 9:21, 22) that we are:

To establish this (Purim on the 14th and 15th of Adar)… the month which was turned from sorrow to joy, and from mourning to a holiday; that (these are) days of …sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.

Giving gifts to the poor is one of the most important Mitzvot of Purim. We are to give freely and joyously. This Mitzvah is one of the first recorded events of Tikkun Olam, Repairing this Damaged World. In the Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Megillah (1:4, 70d) we find the following:

Rabbi Yudan the Patriarch sent a piece of meat and a jug of wine to Rabbi Oshaia the Elder, who replied: You fulfilled for us the injunction of “gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22). At that, Rabbi Yudan sent a whole calf and a huge jar of wine to Rabbi Oshaia, who replied: Now you have fulfilled for us the injunction “of sending portions, each man to his colleague.”

Rabbi Yudan restored Rabbi Oshaia by treating him as a friend to whom Mishloah Manot, (Gifts to be Sent) were to be sent, not just a poor man to whom we send Gifts for the Poor. Restoring the dignity to the poor is a huge priority. Rambam (Hilkhot Ani’im 10:7) provides a hierarchy for Tzedaka, righteous donations, in order to assure the dignity of the recipient is preserved. Rabbi Yudan does that in our Midrash, and we must as well.

May we all be blessed to send extremely generous gifts to the poor this Purim. May we see extreme greed turned to extreme generosity speedily in our days.

A Happy Month of Adar and Hag Purim Same’ah – A Very Happy Purim.


Rabbi Jaron Matlow serves as Spiritual Advisor to Congregation Bnai Torah Olympia (Washington) and as a Veteran advocate and pastoral counselor at the Disabled American Veterans.