“Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt. How, undeterred by fear of G-d, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.
“Therefore, when the L-rd your G-d grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the L-rd your G-d is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”
How wonderful that all these years later, at a time when we couldn’t even identify Amalek if we wanted to, Torah and her Mitzvot remain eternal, and the Mitzvah to blot out the memory of Amalek is as imperative as ever.
It’s wonderful because although the human embodiment of Amalek is a modern-day mystery, the human attributes traceable to Amalek are no mystery at all.
Above all else, Amalek represents cold indifference. As the world marveled in awe at the emergence of this mighty nation from slavery in Egypt, Amalek basically said, “Aw, who cares!” and attacked the Jews just to make their point.
Take a close look at the words: “Remember what Amalek did to you … and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.” Amalek was then and remains today a powerful, negative and pessimistic energy. This energy drained energy, faith and enthusiasm from those it attacked. And no surprise, it attacked the weakest first, “All the stragglers.”
Now, like then, this awful energy called Amalek preys on the stragglers: the weak, the sick, the beaten, the underprivileged. And this energy, disembodied as it is today, finds expression in basically no one and yet in virtually everyone.
Every one of us is prone to practicing Amalekism. And we do it unwittingly. We set out to save the world, and we end up forgetting the most forgotten, neglecting the most neglected and ignoring the perennially ignored. We “cut down all the stragglers,” excluding them with an unintentional but unimaginable cold indifference that only serves to remind them of their own insignificance.
This is why the organization that I am privileged to direct, Aleph Institute, is committed to remembering and serving incarcerated Jews, a segment of the Jewish community that is almost entirely left behind. Year round, Aleph strives to fulfill the clarion call of “Zachor!” — remember! Remember not to follow Amalek down their path of apathy and remember to remember those easiest to forget: Jew behind bars, in halfway houses and in home confinement.
When Purim arrives, on the heels of the Zachor call, Aleph Institute’s joyous volunteers spread out to 45 area prisons to hold Megillah readings, holiday celebrations and to bring the joy of Purim to the men and women who need it as badly as anyone.
In our effort to remember what Amalek did to us, step one is to remember not to do it to each other. Let us reach out to our brothers and sisters who are struggling and straggling behind and give them the boost of confidence and optimism that can only be felt when they feel that truly, their family has not forgotten them.
Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel is executive director of the Aleph Institute’s North East Region. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.