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Remembering to Destroy 

Parsha Halacha - Parshat Yayikra/Zachor 

Parshat Zachor

Remembering to Destroy 

Sponsored by George and Joni White in memory of George’s Parents, Jerry and Irene White

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The Maftir of this week is Parshat Zachor where we are told to remember to destroy Amalek.[1] By reading (or hearing) this section, one fulfills the Biblical positive mitzvah to recall the terrible actions of Amalek.[2]

The Haftorah is about the near destruction of Amalek by King Saul.[3] Although Saul didn’t complete the task, two descendants of his, Mordechai and Esther, picked up where he left off many centuries later and destroyed many Amalekites during the Purim miracle.[4]

This article will focus on some of the laws and customs of this mitzvah and reasons for it.

The Mitzvah

The Mitzvah of remembering Amalek is fulfilled by verbally stating (or by hearing) the remembrance to destroy Amalek. It’s insufficient to remember this only in one’s mind.[5] This is derived from the verse[6] which says Zachor/Remember!… Lo Tishkach/Don’t forget!. “Don’t forget” refers to remembering in one’s heart whereas “Remember” refers to articulating the matter just as one must remember Shabbat verbally by reciting the Kiddush.[7]


The commentaries cite various reasons for this mitzvah:

●      Remember to Destroy

Remembering Amalek reminds us of his treachery, which ensures that we will fulfill the mitzvah of destroying this wicked nation.[8]

●      Remember Hashem’s Kindness

This mitzvah helps us take to heart that all those who fight against the Jewish people are hated by G-d and that He will ultimately destroy such people. The more they persecute the Jewish people, the more complete their destruction will be.[9]

●      Remember to Observe

Amalek attacked the Jewish people after they weakened their devotion to Torah study and the performance of mitzvot.[10] Remembering Amalek reminds us to devote ourselves to the Torah wholeheartedly and not to deviate from it by even one iota.[11]

Men of the Great Assembly

Some say that it’s mandatory by Torah law to read the section about Amalek[12] with a Torah scroll and a minyan.[13] The Men of the Great Assembly established that this mitzvah be fulfilled at a specific time – on the Shabbat before Purim.[14]

Why Before Purim?

The Talmud says that the reason we read Zachor before Purim is to remember Amalek before we do the actions commemorating his (partial) destruction (i.e., the mitzvot of Purim).[15]

Annual Mitzvah

Some say that, by Torah law, this mitzvah must be fulfilled annually since people tend to forget things after a year’s time, as the Talmud says[16] that people (somewhat) forget a deceased relative after a period of one year.[17]

Why Only Once a Year?

It is noteworthy that it’s mandatory to remember Amalek only once a year whereas the mitzvah of remembering the exodus must be done twice a day. The Sefer HaChinuch explains[18] that the exodus is a foundation of our faith and remembering it constantly is vital. The purpose of remembering Amalek is to remain motivated to destroy him (see above), which isn’t a fundamental mitzvah and therefore once a year is sufficient. (But see below about the significance of this mitzvah.)

Some say that one can also fulfill this mitzvah on a daily basis during one’s daily prayers (in the blessing before the Shema) and after one’s prayers (by saying the Six Remembrances).[19]

A Leap Year

Based on the above, some recommend that in a leap year, when there will be more than 12 months between the two readings of Parshat Zachor, one should intend to fulfill this mitzvah when the section is read in Parshat Ki Teitzei.[20]

A Child Getting the Aliyah

By the letter of the law, a child may be called to receive the aliyah of maftir (although in many communities it is no longer customary).[21] This is permissible even for Parshat Zachor despite the fact that it is a Torah obligation. Although generally an adult cannot fulfill a biblical obligation through a child, in this case the child doesn’t read the Torah himself and is only saying the Torah blessings. It’s the reader (ba’al koreh), who is an adult, who is fulfilling the mitzvah on behalf of the congregation.[22]Some disagree and say that this aliyah should go only to an adult.[23]

Reading the Aliyah

It’s important for the person receiving this aliyah to quietly read it together with the reader. (This is preferable for every person receiving an aliyah.) As such, the aliyah should best not be given to a blind person or a person who is illiterate in the Hebrew language although such people may receive other aliyot.[24]

Reading It Later in the Day

Some say that if a congregation didn’t hear (or read) Parshat Zachor in the morning, they can take out a Torah scroll and read it at Mincha time.[25] In addition, a congregation that has an emergency situation (e.g., soldiers during wartime) and is unable to read the entire Torah portion should read only Parshat Zachor and say the blessings on that reading.[26]

Spiritual Lesson

Of all the six matters that one is obligated to remember,[27] the mitzvah of remembering Amalek is the only one that is done with a Torah scroll and a minyan. The reason for this is that Amalek represents a person who recognizes his Master and intentionally rebels against Him.[28] This is an attitude which might be found on a subtle level within the hearts of even devout Jews. Destroying Amalek represents ridding oneself of this attitude, while reading this portion from a Torah scroll with a minyan as a fulfillment of a Biblical mitzvah gives us the spiritual strength to fulfill this essential task.[29]

G-d willing, we will continue this discussion another time!

[1] Deut. 25:17-19

[2] Tosfot D.H. Bilshon, Brachot 13aShulchan Aruch HaRav 282:16 and in many places

[3] I Samuel Chapter 15

[4] See Alshich on Esther 4:13 that when Mordechai said וּמִ֣י יוֹדֵ֔עַ אִם־לְעֵ֣ת כָּזֹ֔את הִגַּ֖עַתְּ לַמַּלְכֽוּת - “And who knows, perhaps you have attained the royal position for just this occurrence!” he meant that this was Esther’s chance to rectify the shortcomings of her ancestor, King Saul.

[5] Rambam, Laws of Kings 5:5

[6] Deut, ibid

[7] See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 271:1 and in the sources quoted in the footnotes there.

In one place (Mitzvah 603) the Chinuch writes that this mitzvah must be verbalized, but elsewhere (Mitzvah 330) he writes that the mitzvah can be done by remembering in one’s heart. Rinat Yitzchak (by Rabbi Avraham Sorotzkin, Wickliffe, Ohio, 2005), end of Parshar Ki Teitzeh discusses this matter.

[8] See Rambam, ibid.

[9] Chinuch, mitzvah 603

[10] See Exodus 17:16 with Rashi and Bechorot 5b.

[11] Sefer Charedim, chapter 60

[12] Ritvah on Megillah 17b

[13] See sources quoted in Magen Avraham on O.C. 685.

[14] Shulchan Aruch HaRav 282:13. See Magen Avraham ibid.

[15] Mishnah Berurah 685:1 based on Megillah 30a

[16] Brachot 58b

[17] Responsa Chatam Sofer, Even Ha’Ezer 119

[18] Mitzvah 603

[19] Shulchan Aruch HaRav 60:4, based on Magen Avraham 60:2

[20] Chatam Sofer, quoted in Maharam Shik Taryag Mitzvot, mitzvah 605, quoted here

[21] See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 282:16 and 282 footnote 31.

[22] Shulchan Aruch HaRav 282:16 and Mishnah Berurah 282:23

[23] Quoted in ibid

[24] Mishnah Berurah 139:13

[25] Nitei Gavriel, Purim, 19:10 and Shevet HaLevi 4:71. See there for the halachic basis for this.

[26] Ibid 11:165 (It would seem that the haftorah should not be recited in this case. A.C)

[27] See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 60:4, based on Magen Avraham 60:2. 

[28] See sources quoted in Likutei Sichot page 193, footnote 38.

[29] Ibid, pages 190 - 196

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Happy Purim!

Sun, June 23 2024 17 Sivan 5784