Shabbat Ki Tetze: It’s Freezing Out

This 5th Shabbat of Consolation, Shabbat Ki Tetze, reminds us not to let our guard down while we are finding our emotional balance, post-Tisha B’Av, between tragedy and hope. At the very end of the parashah we find the warning:

זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt:

אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ כָּל־הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִ֣ים אַֽחַרֶ֔יךָ וְאַתָּ֖ה עָיֵ֣ף וְיָגֵ֑עַ וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱלֹהִֽים׃

how, undeterred by considerations of common decency and humanity, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.

וְהָיָ֡ה בְּהָנִ֣יחַ ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֣יךָ ׀ לְ֠ךָ מִכָּל־אֹ֨יְבֶ֜יךָ מִסָּבִ֗יב בָּאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר ה’־אֱ֠לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵ֨ן לְךָ֤ נַחֲלָה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח׃

When you come to the place where you thank G*d for your safety from all the enemies around, in any place where you feel you belong and are safe, do not forget: blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.

Over and over again throughout Jewish history, from the time of Esther and Mordecai in the ancient Persian Empire through the first Gulf War of Saddam Hussein, our people has recognized Amalek in a signal sort of inhumanity we have seen demonstrated by those who seek our destruction.

We have come to understand that Amalek never disappears.

Amalek appears in that which threatens from without – there is evil in the world; people so damaged that they cannot withstand their yetzer hara’. They prey upon the vulnerable, those who are weak and lag behind, and innocent people’s lives are destroyed.

And there is that which threatens from within – the teachers of our tradition noted an unusual phrase:

אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ

translated “he surprised you on the way”

which really means “he caused you to become cold.”

Too much fear and stress caused by our surroundings can make us “cold,” that is, the opposite of passionate.

Cold to the pain of those who are suffering.

Cold to the problems that threaten to overwhelm.

Cold, numb, even to our own needs.

My friends, we of the human race are warm-blooded animals. Amalek’s final victory over us would be if we lose our ability to feel empathy, compassion, and even fear. We are a community that can only survive and thrive when we watch out for each other. We must refuse to allow the weak among us to be victimized. And we must refuse to let Amalek cool our passion and our joy for the beauty and hope of our lives.

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