The Shabbat preceding Purim is named Shabbat Zachor (“remembrance”) because of the additional verses added to our regular Torah reading from a second Torah scroll (Deut. 25:17-19). The additional verses describe how the evil nation Amalek took advantage of our weakness and attacked us from behind, while we were completely unprepared. We read these verses on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman, the villain of the Purim story, was a descendent of Amalek.
We are commanded to erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens, but also not to forget them. The contradiction is striking: how possibly could we both erase their memory, while never forgetting them?
And yet this seems to be a rather common theme in Judaism. We are accustomed to suffering unspeakable tragedies. Despite the suffering, we must live in this world in good, positive, productive, loving ways, interacting with others in a healthy manner. We cannot thrive if we only see ourselves as victims. However, it is crucial that we diligently preserve our collective memory of the atrocities in our history, both to prevent them from happening to us again, and so that we can speak up and prevent such horrors from happening to others.
This is what Purim is about: celebrating our victories, enjoying life and being happy, while being fully cognisant of the dangers that are out there.
Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameacḥ!
The Mitzvot of Purim
Purim begins Monday evening and continues until after dark on Tuesday. It is a minor holiday, so unlike Shabbat, ‘work’ is permitted, but it sure is a fun one! There are four obligatory mitzvot on Purim: Hearing the megillah reading (during the evening service and again during the morning service), Mishloḥei manot – sending gifts of food to our friends, Matanot la’evyonim – giving gifts of charity to the poor, and se’udah – having a festive daytime meal, which usually includes some alcohol to commemorate all the drinking that occurred in the story of Esther. But be careful, don’t endanger your health, or that of those around you!
As part of the third mitzvah mentioned- giving gifts of charity- please consider a donation to the Rabbi’s discretionary fund and let me know you have done so. I will give donations to Jewish people in need on Purim day, on your behalf, in a dignified way.
Please Note, Regarding Head Coverings and Gender:
As an egalitarian Conservative congregation, all genders are treated equally at Beth Jacob. Everyone is invited to cover their head and, if Jewish, wear a tallit during our services. But no person is required to do either to participate.
When taking an honour such as opening the Ark or taking an aliyah, it is our custom to ask that a head covering be worn by everyone, regardless of gender.
If you have any questions or concerns about this policy, please don’t hesitate to speak with Rabbi Hillel or another member of synagogue leadership.