Today’s Amalekites (Purim 2014/5774)

At the beginning of the third chapter of Megillat Esther, which we read each year on Purim, we are introduced to the villain, Haman: “After these things transpired, King Achashverosh elevated Haman the son of Hamdata the Agagite and made him vizier, and placed his seat above all the other ministers.”  This elevation provided Haman the power necessary to threaten the Jewish People with complete destruction, but as we all remember, in the end Mordechai and Esther foiled Haman’s evil scheme through the hidden, subtle influence of the Holy Blessed One. Just as the megillah concludes with the elimination of Haman and his entire household, our custom is to sound groggers, shout and stomp out feet every time we hear his name, attempting to simultaneously remember our persecutor and eliminate him from our collective memories. (One of the ironies of Purim is that if there’s doubt that the community heard “Haman” read from the scroll, the reader is required to repeat the name before moving on with the story.)

According to tradition, Haman was a descendant of Agag, the Amalekite king whom Saul failed to put to death (1 Samuel 15). As we read on Shabbat Zachor, we are commanded always to remember the evil that Amalek did to our ancestors in the wilderness—attacking them from behind, targeting the most vulnerable, the elderly and the young—and to work in every generation toward the destruction of the Amalekite people.  So who are today’s Amalekites that we need to fight?

Fortunately, there are no actual people who claim to descend from Amalek, though individuals who have plotted against our people throughout history are considered spiritual descendants of that evil tribe.  Indeed, there are those few who would do harm to us and to the State of Israel, but we are blessed to live in a time when we have a strong Israeli Defense Force and representatives in our government to protect us.  Those Amalekites are being taken care of, and on a certain level, they are relatively easy to deal with.

The challenge comes when we seek to face the Amalekites in ourselves—those urges within ourselves that sneak up on us in our weakest moments.  Every day, we encounter forces and challenges that threaten to turn us away from realizing our fullest positive potential as human beings and as Jews.  For me, my impatience with others and myself, as well as my inclination to overeat, are examples of destructive behaviors that I struggle to eliminate every single day.  Others strive to combat the internal scourges of addiction, low self-esteem, prejudice… the list goes on. These are the forces that attack us from behind and try to get us at our most vulnerable moments.

On this Purim, may we be able to uncover the hidden Amalekites, as Esther uncovered her true identity at the end of the megillah.  At every mention of Haman’s name, let the noise that we make not only erase him from memory, but also focus our attention toward eliminating all those things that give us excuses not to be our best selves.  “Purim” is the word for the lots that Haman threw to determine on which day to destroy the Jewish People, but we cannot leave our development and happiness to chance.

Hag Purim Sameach!

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