A new twist to blotting out Amalek

A new twist to blotting out Amalek

Ki Tetze, Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19

You wouldn’t know it from the start, but Ki Tetze is one of those special portions.

We arrive at it once as part of the Torah reading cycle and we roll to it once earlier in the year. Why twice? The portion ends:  “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt — how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.  Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

Thus we read this portion this week and the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim.

The reason we “blot out” Haman with groggers on Purim is because his ancestry is traced to Amalek. Yet that is not the only way that we erase his name.  A sofer (scribe) writes the name of Amalek before beginning each sefer Torah (Torah scroll) and then blots it out.  In so doing, he is observing this mitzva.

So what does this have to do with my summer vacation?  As I do every year, I go to the Union for Reform Judaism’s summer camp in the Poconos, Camp Harlam, to serve on its faculty. Given a project to literally integrate Judaism into the walls of camp, we were to paint a mural on the retaining wall surrounding one of the pools.  

Before beginning, inspired by the mitzva to blot out Amalek, I invited each group of campers and counselors to write in paint something that should be blotted out from the world.  They wrote: leukemia, war, rape, loneliness, cancer, cancer, cancer, anti-Semitism, racism, jealousy, lies, hatred, unhappiness. … After reading these powerful words aloud, they began to blot them out with long brush strokes of white paint.  It was a powerful moment.  It was a sacred moment.

Forever, those words will be within that wall… yet they are invisible.  What is visible was at first a pure white wall full of hope and potential and then the beautiful scenes of a Tree of Life with the four rivers of the Garden of Eden issuing out of it, biblical water themes from Noah’s Ark to the parting of the sea to Miriam’s well to Jonah and the whale to themes from Camp Harlam.  The color and beauty of life has blotted out Amalek’s name.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)