How can we remember Shabbat Zachor?
I have always been intrigued by the commandment ‘you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it’ (Deuteronomy 25:19). Simultaneously we are told to ‘blot out the remembrance’ and to ‘not forget it’; two instructions which appear to be contradictory. This challenge is further compounded by the fact that the commandment appears in the Torah and is read twice a year, once in the regular Torah reading cycle, and once as the Maftir on Shabbat Zachor (the Shabbat of Remembrance); ensuring we are regularly reminded to blot out and not forget.
Remembering to blot out and never forget.
Shabbat Zachor is one of the special Shabbatot in our Jewish calendar; we remember Amalek in the Maftir reading, we remember Amalek in the Haftarah reading (I Samuel 15:2-34) and we remember Amalek on Purim, which occurs in the following week. Amalek is a recurring feature in our people’s history, assuming a position as the archetypal villain. And on Shabbat Zachor, it is the original story of Amalek which we are remembering.
On Shabbat Zachor (as with most of the other special Shabbatot) outside of the special readings for the day there is no special ritual for the service.
This year when I went to the Ark to choose a Torah scroll to use for the Shabbat Zachor maftir reading, I, of course, checked which of the scrolls was rolled closest to Deuteronomy. As fate would have it, our Czech Memorial Torah scroll (saved from Europe after the Shoah) was the one which was rolled closest to the necessary verses. As I took the Torah out of the Ark, it struck me that this scroll was especially appropriate for using on this special Shabbat.
This Torah itself symbolized the very fulfillment of the commandment; it emerged from the horrors of the latest Amalakite persecution, as the Nazis sought the destruction of European Jewry. The survival of this Torah scroll, and its use in a Synagogue for worship and prayer, is evidence of the fulfillment of the commandment to ‘blot out the remembrance of Amalek [the Nazis] from under heaven’. And simultaneously, as we honor the scroll as our Czech Memorial Torah scroll, always remembering its story of survival out of the ashes of destruction, we guarantee that we ‘shall not forget it’.
A New Ritual for Shabbat Zachor:
I am sure that there are communities using their Czech Torah scrolls on Shabbatot around Yom HaShoah (our memorial day for the Holocaust). But reading those special verses, from this special Torah gave new meaning and significance to the day of Shabbat Zachor. Simultaneously I was reading about our ancestors in the wilderness and at the same time I was recalling those dark days for European Jewry. On this Shabbat of remembrance I remembered our peoples distant and recent history. This time on Shabbat Zachor I felt that I was able to simultaneously fulfill the disparate obligations of the commandment to blot out and never forget.
I want to suggest that every community with a Czech Memorial Torah Scroll, or any Torah scroll rescued from the ashes of Europe, should use that Torah for the Maftir reading on Shabbat Zachor. Reading from these Torah scrolls, possessing their unique stories elevates this Shabbat in the Jewish calendar, and it serves to build a bridge across Jewish history, one which we can extend into the future.
If you have other ways in which you are using Torah scrolls rescued from Europe I would be eager to hear about them. Please do share them in the comments.