This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Zachor, “the Sabbath of remembering Amalek”. Who was Amalek? The Torah records that when the people of Israel were leaving Egypt, the Amalekites attacked them on the way, cutting down the weak, the stragglers, the famished. This cruelty is to be remembered and we are commanded to oppose the cruel and heartless the “Amalekites” in every generation. Why this Shabbat? Because Haman (boo! hiss!) was an Amalekite.
The medieval commentator Rashi, however, makes an astonishing point. He notes that Deuteronomy 25:17-18 says “Remember what Amalek did to you-how he surprised you when you were weary and cut down all the weak stragglers”. Rashi notes that the word for “surprised” (karcha) comes from the word mikreh-“by chance”. He goes on to say that Amalek is a symbol- of those who argue that all things in life happen “by chance”-that life is simply coincidence and fate and is essentially meaningless.
This is why we are commanded to remember Amalek and blot out his name. Judaism, at its essence, is a resounding response to the notion that life is empty of meaning and just a string of haphazard events. Life is filled with the potential for meaning and value, if we but choose to “oppose Amalek” and search for meaning in our every day.
*with apologies to Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian”