Messages from Rabbi Russo

August 29, 2015 - 14 Elul 5775

August 29, 2015
14 Elul 5775
The last few lines of Parashat Ki Tetzei are a reminder to blot out the name of Amalek, "Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt — how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!" (Deuteronomy 25:17 - 19)

Amalek is identified as a continuous enemy against God and Israel. He attacks Israel when they are vulnerable. Yet there is something disturbing about the hatred prescribed in the Torah. The Torah mandates that every last Amalekite should be killed. It seems like an extreme response. Certainly Amalek is not the first person to mistreat the Israelites. The Egyptians enslaved and oppressed the Israelites for years. Concerning the Egyptians, the Torah tells us, "You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land" (23:8). What is it about Amalek that elicits such a strong response from God? I do not see an obvious answer in the text.  

Many of us have one (or two) people in our lives that evoke strong feelings of hate. There are times when we might want to blot out their name or wish ill on them. People can hurt us deeply. It is even worse when we are already feeling raw. Perhaps the lines about Amalek in the Torah can serve as a reminder for us to let go of our hate and anger towards the people who know how to push our buttons. It is worth noting God's response and to explore this text more. As we get closer and closer to Rosh Hashanah, I encourage you to think about if anyone has sinned against you this year. My mentor, poet Merle Feld, poses these questions during Chodesh Elul: 

  • Has anyone sinned against you this year, hurt you?
  • How?
  • What do you need from them to achieve healing?
  • Is there something you can do to help bring about that healing, justice, reconciliation?

Perhaps that won’t be possible; if it’s not possible, how might you help yourself to find inner peace and move on?    

I encourage you to contemplate these questions as we prepare for Shabbat and do Heshbon HaNefesh, an accounting of the soul. Please join us tomorrow at 9:30 am for our special kavanah service for Chodesh Elul.

Shabbat Shalom.