Parshat Zachor and the Dialectic of Jewish Unity

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In the special Torah portion for Zachor, G-d commands the Jewish people to remember the terrible and heinous deeds of the evil Amalek nation.

Zachor et asher asah lecha Amalek, baderech betzetchem Memitzrayim,

Remember that which Amalek did to you, on the way when you left Egypt,

This verse of Zachor is puzzling and unusual, in that the pasuk of Zachor is initially inflected in the singular, Zachor et asher asah lecha Amalek, remember that which Amalek did to you, with the Jewish people in the singular, baderech betzetchem memitzrayim, on the path when you, the Jewish people, left Egypt in the plural.

One of the elementary rules of grammar in any language, is that consistency must be maintained in a sentence’s subject between the singular and plural. Random switching of a sentence’s subject between the plural and singular is such a digression from intelligent writing that we must ask why G-d “violated” a basic rule of grammar.

Perhaps Hashem is teaching us an important lesson about anti-Semitism, Jewish unity and how we view ourselves.

The Anti-Semites of the world, the Hamans, Hitlers and the Amaleks, see the Jewish people as one single and solitary unit.

Amalek paid no attention whether a Jew was Shomer Shabbat or not. Haman did not care whether a Jew was Sefardi or Ashkenazi, and Hitler was not concerned whether a Jew was a Jabotinsky Revisionist or a Ben-Gurion Mapainik. Amalek viewed all Jews as a solitary unit, and therefore attacked every single Jew as one – Zachor et asher asaah lecha Amalek.

In contradistinction, baderech betzetchem Memitzrayim, we the Jewish people saw and often see ourselves as many. We invariably divide ourselves based on Synagogue affiliation, preference for a given political party, whether or not we wear a hat for prayer, and what style kippah we choose.

Moshe tells the Jewish people;

Zachor et asher assah lecha Amalek;

Amalek viewed you as one, hated you as one and attacked you as one when you, the Jewish people, left Egypt:

Baderech betzetchem Mimitzrayim,

When you, the Jewish people viewed yourselves as many and without cohesion, on your journey from Egypt.

At the conclusion of this section, Moshe relates the command to defeat Amalek and switches the subject of the Jewish people back to the singular.

Timche et zecher Amalek,

Timche-destroy in the singular. It doesn’t say timchu et zecher Amalek in the plural, rather it is timche-in the singular.

The switch back to the singular teaches that if we Jews want to remove Amalek’s cancerous evil from the world, then we must do so as a united and cohesive community.

Proof that unity and cohesion is a prerequisite for combating Amalek comes from Maimonides’s codification of the requirement to defeat Amalek in his first Chapter of the Laws of Kings. Maimonides writes:

Minuy melech kodem lemilchemet Amalek,

The selection of a King precedes fighting the wars against Amalek.

The implication of this law is that without the unity of a monarchy the Jewish people can not successfully battle and defeat Amalek.

It is therefore no coincidence that once Esther is informed of the evil plot of Amalek’s grandson Haman, Esther instructs Mordechai,

Lech kneos et kol hayehudim,

Go and gather all the Jews.

Esther wanted to bring together the saints and the scholars, along with the not-so-pious and those that were not completely pure, because Esther understood that she couldn’t battle Amalek unless all Jews were united.

If that is the case, and unity is a central theme of Zachor and Purim, why then did Esther and Mordechai create two Purims, regular Purim on the 14th of Adar and Shushan Purim, where the inhabitants of walled cities celebrate on the 15th of Adar?

Why did Mordechai create a situation where all Jews are not celebrating together as one and differences will exist in Jewish practice? It would seem that the principle of Jewish unity would best be served if Mordechai picked one day, either the 14th or the 15th day of Adar, and all Jews observed together.

I think the decision to legislate multiple Purims is not a contradiction to the theme of togetherness, rather multiple Purims teach a vital lesson about Jewish unity: All Jews need not do everything the same way.

There will always be Kohanim and Leviim with different laws and responsibilities, and there will always be left-handed men who put tefillin on their right arms, while those that are right-handed, place tefillin on their left arms. Various Jewish communities around the world will always have different minhagim concerning any number of practices of Jewish observance.

Two Purims, in the context of a Holiday of unity, teaches us that Hashem created us as individuals and different tribes because because we all have unique roles to play, and a successful nation needs all types to carry out its mission.

Mordechai through the legislation of multiple Purims, is saying that even though there will always be slight differences in religious practice, we should understand that what ultimately generates our specialness is that we are all Jews.

The dialectical nature of Purim’s unity, asks how do we define ourselves? What is the noun (our state of being), and what is the adjective (what describes our state of being)? Purim forces us to ask the question, “who am I?”

Whether one is Sephardic or Ashkenazi, a Kohen or Levi, or politically right- or left-wing, Purim teaches, that these differences are relatively minor and superficial. They are merely adjectives (descriptions); and the noun, our state of being, is as a member of the Jewish nation.

Esther’s successful charge of, lech kenos et kol hayehudim – go and gather all the Jews, teaches that what truly generates our spiritual importance, is that we are all children of Avraham, Yiztchak and Yaakov; Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah.

Purim teaches that our essence and our ultimate state of being, is that we are Jewish and that we are all an essential part of an incredible nation. When we truly understand that, then we will together as a unit, timche (in the singular) defeat Amalek, once and for all.