Processing the Week: AIPAC, Netanyahu, Congress, Iran, Amalek, House of Cards and (of Course) Haman
Reprinted with thanks to The Jewish Theological Seminary. Please feel free to post a link to your shpiel below.
The Shabbat prior to Purim, known as Shabbat Zakhor, takes its name from the first word of the special maftir (additional Torah reading) for the day, which retells the story of the first post-enslavement attack against the newly freed Israelites:
Remember (zakhor) what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt . . . You shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
We read the underlying narrative, Exodus 17:8–16, on Purim day. The link with Purim is Haman, a descendant of Amalek genetically and, more importantly, characterologically: we understand Amalek and Haman to not be simply historic figures, but paradigms, personifications, of radical evil.
Indeed, a primary focus of Purim and the Scroll of Esther—informed by the Amalek narratives—is the theology and anthropology of evil:
What is the source of evil, and how can we square its existence with our beliefs about God? Does it arise at random, preying on innocence and vulnerability? Or do we open ourselves to the power of evil when we are morally compromised, as individuals or societies? What roles do God, and our faith and action, play in preventing and responding to evil?
The masks and humor of Purim give us the courage to ask these unnerving questions in a safe environment, allowing deep questions to emerge and be examined without full accountability (after all, we’re only playing). And we parody our most sacred beliefs and practices—an annual inoculation against thinking that our religion is God—lest in our confusion we become a source of evil ourselves.
In that spirit, I hope you will enjoy this interpretation of the Amalek/Haman story, sung to a familiar tune.
Rabbi Jan R. Uhrbach, a Wexner Graduate Fellowship alum (Class 10), has rejoined the JTS faculty this year as Director of Liturgical Arts, spearheading a new initiative utilizing the resources of JTS to revitalize prayer in the Conservative Movement and beyond. Jan founded and continues to serve as rabbi of the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons in Sag Harbor. Jan is also the Associate Editor of Siddur Lev Shalem, a new Shabbat and festival siddur published by the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly due out this year, and served as a member of the editorial committee for Machzor Lev Shalem, published in 2010. Jan received her ordination from JTS, where she was the recipient of academic prizes in theology, philosophy, Talmud, and professional skills. The rabbinate is Jan’s second career. A graduate of Yale University (1988) and Harvard Law School (1985), Rabbi Uhrbach served as Law Clerk to Federal District Judge Kimba M. Wood. She then joined the New York law firm of Satterlee Stephens Burke & Burke LLP, where she specialized in media litigation, becoming a partner of the firm in January, 1996. Jan can be reached at email@example.com.