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Don't Stop Believing

09/12/2019 09:40:42 AM


I was in between classes when it became clear that there was an attack on the World Trade Center buildings in New York. I remember passing by the Senior Lounge, a room in our school that had a television with cable that was packed with students and teachers taking in the news. Later in the day we heard news of a crash in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. I remember my friends being picked up from school early. I remember the shock, the fear, the patriotism.

This week in Parshat Ki Tetzei, we are tasked with remembering Amalek. Like the terrorists of September 11, 2001, the Amalekites launched a surprise attack. Directed against the Israelites in the wilderness, the Amalekites attacked from the rear, targeting those who were most tired. Rabbinic midrash explains that when the Israelites marched, the elderly, sick, and those who couldn’t move as quickly would accumulate towards the rear of the march. And thus, when the Amalekites attacked from behind, it earned them a level of enmity far more severe than even that of the Egyptians and the Edomites – the classic enemies of the Israelites. “Blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” (Deuteronomy 25:19).

But as tragic as it was for Amalek to cowardly attack the innocent and weaker Israelites, our tradition also lament how the Amalekites poisoned the Israelites optimism and idealism. Full of the hope of freedom, the Israelites could almost imagine the possibilities of the future. And then the Amalekites attacked, and took that away from them.

As I reflect on the past eighteen years following that terror attack, I can begin to see the legacy that this war on terrorism has had for our country. The optimism that celebrated the American cultural melting pot has sobered, and more and more, the pride of being a nation built of immigrants has been replaced with nationalism. Like Amalek, the September 11th terrorists brought us an unwanted reminder of the hate in the world, and the work we must do to preserve our ideals. However, when Amalek attacked the Israelites, the Israelites lost their optimism. If we truly can remember Amalek, and internalize the lessons of the story, then perhaps we can learn not to let these types of attacks define us. Perhaps we can live in security without compromising our values. When we metaphorically travel, perhaps we can work to assist those who are lagging behind. As we plan for the future, perhaps we can bring more vigilance. If we can do these things, then perhaps we can then say that we remember Amalek.

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784