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Ancient Problems, Modern Answers

What follows is a slightly updated and emended form of the sermon delivered this past Shabbat.

Shabbat Zachor is the Sabbath of Remembrance. This day is assigned to the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim. On this Shabbat we are commanded to remember what the Amalekites did to the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness. The Torah states: “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) Why is this read prior to Purim? Because the tradition argues that Haman was a descendant of Amalek. There is a thread that connects all our enemies.

One generation’s evildoers are descended from the prior generation’s. The wickedness is the same. The battle is eternal. Leon Wieseltier argues: “All violence is not like all other violence. Every Jewish death is not like every other Jewish death. To believe otherwise is to revive the old typological thinking about Jewish history, according to which every enemy of the Jews is the same enemy, and there is only one war, and it is a war against extinction, and it is a timeless war.” Antisemitism is, I fear, eternal, but not every antisemite is Haman. Today’s enemies are not the Nazis. The situation is different. The problem is real. The threat is great. Still 2015 is not 1938. There are differences.

On Tuesday Prime Minister Netanyahu will speak to Congress....