This Shabbat we read parashat Tetzaveh, and also mark one of the special Shabbatot of the months leading to Pesakh. The observance of Shabbat Zakhor, “Remember”, includes a special Torah reading describing the attack by the Amalekites on the Israelites as they were leaving Egypt, very early on in the journey. The Amalekites swooped down on the rear of the Israelite group, assaulting the vulnerable weaker and slower of the people Israel. The Torah records G-d’s command to Moshe to remember the event, and declares that the memory of Amalek will be wiped out.
One way in which this is understood is as a command to erase the behavior of Amalek from our own human interactions, to the extent that no one will remember any more that anyone ever took advantage of any one else’s weakness. If it is not remembered, it is as if it did not exist.
In Jewish tradition, memory is the key to existence; one’s life finds its meaning and its significance through the very fact that one is remembered. Children, therefore, are seen in Jewish tradition as carriers of the memory of their parents (one reason why many children are named after beloved departed family members). And it is often true that people are driven to make a “name” for themselves in some enduring way that will outlast them. It seems that one of our most urgent fears is that we might be forgotten – and that will mean that it was as if we never existed.
It is interesting, then, t consider what is not named in our parashah, and also in the Megillat Ester which we will read tomorrow evening at the end of Shabbat when Purim begins. Precisely on Shabbat Zakhor, “remember”, we read the only parashah in which Moshe is not mentioned in the entire Torah (outside, of course, of the Book Bereshit.) Moshe is not remembered in this parashah. Neither is God remembered, by Name, in the Megillah.
It is easy to insist that Moshe’s fingerprints are all over the parashah anyway; we know he is there because he’s obviously implicit. And what about G-d in the Megillah? It is often pointed out that the word melekh, “king”, occurs so often that it is meant to indicate the King of Kings, not the Persian Emperor satirized throughout. It is also noted that every time when Esther comes before the King to make her requests, Ahashverosh is not mentioned; it is the King before whom she pleads.
Often the most important word is the one that is not spoken, but is heard nevertheless; the word that we refrain from speaking, or that doesn’t even come to mind. On this Shabbat Zakhor take a moment to consider memory. Zeh Zikhri, “this is my remembering”, says G-d to Moshe at the burning bush, and gives Moshe a Name that we do not speak, but is heard nevertheless, especially in the silent place where Amalek used to be.