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Parashat Tetzaveh-Shabbat Zachor 5777: Justice, not revenge

This Shabbat is the second in the series of four special Shabbatot before Pesach: Shabbat Zachor. It is always the Shabbat before Purim and according to Jewish Law is one of the few occasions when we are commanded to come to Shul and listen to the Torah reading of Parashat Zachor in order to fulfill it. Zachor means remember and in listening to the reading we are remembering. And what do we have to remember? We are commanded to remember what the people of Amalek did to the Israelites after leaving Egypt, to never forget it and to erase the Amalekite’s memory from under the skies. This portion brings us into the difficult subject of the place of revenge in our lives and in Jewish tradition. It is a relevant question even if we do feel uncomfortable with the revenge that the Torah commands over Amalek. If we think about the terrorists that murdered civilians in Israel, France and other places, didn’t we feel at some moment or other the need for revenge, even against the people of these terrorists? After a little reasoning, most of us will agree that it is not moral to take collective revenge for these terrible actions of specific individuals… but if I ask you, however, what to do with the murderers themselves in the case we catch them what would you say? Bring them to justice? Put them in jail and pay for their food? Some of us might say that they deserve death penalty without a trial even and hopefully they will die in suffering. That is not justice, not according to the laws of this country, Israel and other countries. That is revenge, of the same kind that the one we dislike in Parashat Zachor. I have always admired a famous sentence of Simon Wiesenthal, the Shoah survivor who we wouldn’t blame if he had revenge in his heart and who dedicated many efforts to find and bring Nazi criminals to justice. He said many times: “I seek justice, not revenge”. I agree with him, I believe in justice, not in revenge. Revenge only serves our ego, our feelings, our needs and not society and its proper working. Only justice does that. It is not about us. To read about Amalek in my eyes is an educational opportunity to see ourselves and reinforce our identity. If they, Amalek, were murderous and without regard for human life and it hurts us, then we cannot be like them. We remember Amalek in order not to be like that. Not to claim revenge, but justice. What we must blot out from under skies is not Amalek itself, but evil, hate and revenge.

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