(1 Samuel 15:2-34)
March 3, 2007
This Shabbat is the special Shabbat which precedes Purim, Shabbat Zachor. It is dedicated to remembering the dastardly deeds of the tribe of Amalek in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. The enmity between Israel and the Amalekites extended through the generations and we find episodes of this hostility recurring in a number of biblical stories. The special haftarah for this Shabbat recounts the episode where the prophet Samuel sends King Saul into battle against King Agag and the Amalekites in the ongoing battle between the two peoples. In this account, the people of Israel is reminded of the reason for the battle: \”Thus said the Lord of Hosts: \’I am exacting the penalty for what Amalek did to Israel, for the assault he made upon them on the road, on their way up from Egypt.\’\” (Verse 2)
This verse, among others, raised an interesting association in the mind of one of the great sages of the Talmudic period: Said Rabbi Shimon [ben Lakish]: Some are remembered and praised while others are remembered and cursed. [Among those who are] \’remembered and praised’ – \”Bezalel the son of Uri the son of Hur of the tribe of Judah\’ (Exodus 31:2). ‘Remembered and cursed\” – Achan the son of Karmi the son of Zavdi ben Zerah of the tribe of Judah\”. (Joshua 7:18); \’Remembered and praised\’ – \”Remember that which the Lord God did for Miriam.\” (Deut. 24:9) \’Remembered and cursed\’ – \”Remember what Amalek did to you\” (Deut. 25:17); \’Remembered and praised\’ – \”And the Lord remembered (pakad) Sarah.\” (Genesis 21:1) \’Remembered and cursed\’ – \”I am exacting the penalty (pakadti) for what Amalek did to Israel\” (Adapted and abridged from Midrash Samuel, Buber ed. pp. 43-44)
Rabbi Shimon paid close attention to the wording used to describe different biblical figures. He noticed that frequently similar phraseology was employed to describe both heroic and disreputable figures. Since his focus was on memory, his message centers on this very point. Both the righteous and wicked will be remembered in kind. When the righteous will be remembered, every detail will be remembered about them and their goodness. The same can be said about the posterity of the wicked. It is not just they who will be remembered. Every wicked detail will be remembered about them and attributed to them and their offspring forever, never to be forgotten.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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