It is Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of Remembrance. It is always the Shabbat that falls before Purim, which in turn always falls a month before Pesach. It is our response as Jews to the commandment to ‘Remember what Amalek did to you’ (Deut 25:17).
What did he do to us, and what is the connection with Purim? As we departed from Egypt to make our way to the Land given to us as an inheritance forever, we were met with the tribe of Amalek who caused us so much harm and tried to stop us in our walk. They were the descendants of Esau/Edom too. Shemot 17 fills in the blanks of the story, as Moshe continued to worship with outstretched arms, we prevailed, but as the arms dropped we began to fail. Verse 14 however states that God will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek under heaven. Note, we are commanded to remember what Amalek did to us, not what he was or stood for (evil trying to halt our fulfilling our destiny as Jews in the Land). In some ways this is truly personal, remember the pain to inform future actions.
Hundreds of years later, Shmuel the Prophet told Shaul the first king of Israel to continue the eradication programme, but Shaul relented and failed to kill Agag the king of the Amalakites. For this his reign was removed and finally David took to the throne.
In the Megillah Haman is designated as the ‘Agagite’, a descendant of the tribe of Amalek that had caused us so much trouble. Clearly the descendants of this tribal group had been dispersed too by this time, but Haman’s memory was long and revenge seemed too good to pass up. Just as with other infamous Edomites down the ages, hostility is never far away. For this reason we used Edom as a ‘code word’ to talk about Rome in the first century, a powerful political and cultural force trying to eradicate us.
Edom still does try to destroy us. Today the descendants of Edom are scattered across the Middle East in various tribal formations, and our presence there causes great anger and regular outbreaks of hostility and war. You would think by now they would have learnt that Israel is not going away.
One of the major themes of Torah is that the physical material world is used by God through the commandments to create righteousness and holiness in what otherwise would be a world dominated by sin and lost forever. Applying this concept to Purim we see that evil choices as well as good choices impact on the physical world we experience. For Amalek or Haman or any more modern enemy to attack us in the physical world is therefore a profoundly spiritual attack. It is an attack by the forces of evil arrayed against us to prevent the covenant of God from being fulfilled, and the first in that set was the Abrahamic covenant: the inheritance of the Land.
We too experience these kinds of attacks, things that might be an irritant to stop us praying, or keeping a mitzvah, situations that seem too challenging to cope with so we let our relationship with God drift or fail to rise to righteous acts like keeping Shabbat. All these spiritual and consequently physical attacks come from the same source.
Rav Shaul said in Ephesians 6:12 ‘For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.’ What most interpret from this is that somehow the battle is purely spiritual. This conclusion is wrong. It certainly would not have been read that way in the first century with an occupying force of Rome dominating the landscape. The battle was and is real and we feel it every day, we do ‘wrestle’ with flesh and blood feeling the force of spiritual and physical attack through the ‘real’ world; the powers behind these attacks are very real and have an eternal perspective too: the demise if possible of Israel the people of God. Failure to see the inter-connectedness of the two will leave you unbalanced. How often have we seen for ourselves that as Israel in the Land comes under attack we feel it too right here? We do because we are one with our people in the Land. Our destiny is theirs, as God’s people we have a historic and eternal calling. The battle with Rome/ Babylon/ Edom continues to the very end. But the outcome is never in any doubt, which is finally the narrative point of Purim. Whatever may be arrayed against us will ultimately fail because God is in control and faithful.