Why Zachor MUST Precede Purim

As I write this week’s column, I am assuming that by the time that you will be reading it, things will be clear in Our Town, and we can get on with the business of hating our real enemies, as per Megillas Esther. At times, modern man seems to have an issue with needing to have a real live enemy, whom one hates. (I like to think that all the ‘haters’ out there whom we may have lately were just kidding and practicing for Purim, since hating is not something that we do easily.) Yet hate we must at times, as the passuk (Tehillim 139:21) says, “Why, those who hate You, Hashem, I will hate, and against those who would rise up against You I will quarrel.” In fact, Rambam in Sefer Hamitzvos (Positive Mitzvah 189; the mitzvah of ‘Zachor’) writes, “Wherein He has commanded us to remember what Amaleik did to us in his eagerness to harm us; we are to reaffirm it at all times, arouse the people to make war upon him and to hate him, so that our hatred for him not be weakened or lessened with the passage of time. Thus you see that Shmuel Hanavi, in proceeding to exhort Shaul to fulfill the commandment to destroy Amaleik, recalled the story of what Amaleik did, in order to arouse the hatred we must harbor towards Amaleik and then go on  to destroy him.”

Rambam’s mention of Shmuel’s telling Shaul to do the devar Hashem and destroy Amaleik, as commanded (we are going to be reading this account on Shabbos as the haftarah of Parshas Zachor) addresses an apparent question. One might wonder why Shmuel needed to give this introduction at all. Eradicating Amaleik is a mitzvah which is incumbent upon a King, why the storytelling? The Rambam here is “casually” teaching us that the purpose of this account, and the purpose of the very mitzvah of zachor, is to arouse our attitude towards Amaleik, so that we indeed hate him as an embodiment of evil, as one who denies Hashem. Klal Yisrael’s raison d’être in this world is to proclaim the existence of Hashem, as the Ramban in Parshas Bo so eloquently states: “Therefore, because we see that there are constantly mitzvos that are reminders of the principles of our faith (e.g., tefillin, mezuzah, kerias shema, sukkah), the Sages state ‘be as scrupulous in observing a minor commandment as in performing a major one (Avos 2:1), because all of them are in truth major and beloved, since through them a person is constantly acknowledging Hashem, for the ultimate objective of all the commandments is that we should believe in Hashem and acknowledge to Him that he created us… and that in fact is the ultimate objective of the creation itself for we have no other explanation for creation ; and the most High has no desire for earthbound creatures except this, that man should know and acknowledge  to his G-D that G-D indeed created him.

Amaleik is clearly the antitheses of this. Thus, as harsh as is the word hate, it remains the very goal of zachor, as explained by the Rambam. Amaleik, as the Rambam further describes (Positive Mitzvah 188), is but the most acute and fanatical of the children of Esav: To destroy Amaleik from amongst all the descendants of Esav.” The never-ending battle against the Jews, called anti-Semitism, absolutely irrational so much of the time, has its roots in the battle over malchus Hashem. That is why we find the similar phrase describing B’nei Yisrael’s obligation to destroy Amaleik as Hashem’s promise that He would do so, “Timcheh ess zecher (zaicher) Amaleik mitachas hashamayim. Ki mochoh emcheh ess zaicher Amaleik mitachas hashamayim.” We are playing for high stakes indeed. Hashem states that His malchus is lacking, k’vayochol, as it were, until the total eradication of those who would deny Him. But it is apparently important to establish a desire to do so, stemming from a hatred, as part of our values system —to declare that we hate those who would deny Hashem.

The Gra explains in his commentary to Chanah’s prayer in Sefer Shmuel that Esav has four specific areas of attack against B’nei Yisrael, which he exercised at four specific points in history. According to this premise of the Gra, Haman was attacking the uniqueness of Klal Yisrael’s relationship with Hashem, namely, Klal Yisrael as described in the sixth chapter of Avoskinyan echad, one of the primary possessions of Hashem in this world. Not Klal Yisrael per se, rather, our singularity as Hashem’s representatives in this world. Thus, the Gra explains in his commentary to Megillas Esther (8:16), “Layehudim haysah orah vesimcha vesasson viyekar,” which Chazal tell us alludes to the following four mitzvos: Torah, Yom Tov, milah and tefillin. These four mitzvos are described as ‘osos’ —signs, symbols of our affiliation, a representation our bond with Hashem. And as Haman, the scion of Amaleik, tried to eradicate that association, the Jews upon his defeat, reaffirmed precisely those very signposts of our status.

Purim is indeed a day of joy, gaiety, merrymaking, even drinking. But before Purim, as the Gemara and halachah make abundantly clear, there must be zachor. Realizing and recognizing evil, remembering and acknowledging that evil does exist and that we are enjoined to eradicate it in whatever way is available to us.

Purim must be preceded with understanding its essence as a day celebrating a proclamation of the ultimate victory of Hashem and His people who acknowledge Him over those who would deny, or even hesitate and equivocate and “explain” matters in a “natural” way. For what could be more natural than the story of Purim? Thus the accompanying unbridled joy, which has its value only within the context of the Ramban that we learned —acknowledgement of Hashem’s existence and His enabling all that occurs. Seeing Him in nature, in the laws of physics, in history, in our amazing biological systems, in all the goodness with which we are blessed. And hating those who would “explain it all away” in their contorted efforts to deny Him. The ultimate praise of Hashem, the ultimate hallel, as Chazal say in Gemara Megillah, is simply reading the story, and seeing the events unfold as a master plan of Hashem and as a vindication of His representatives.

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