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Parashath Zachor: Remember What, Exactly? Part 2

February 24, 2015

(Part 1)

Ezra the Zionist and the Four Parashiyoth

We usually attribute the enactment of the public reading of the four parashiyoth to Ezra and his contemporaries. Why then? What happened at that juncture in history that warranted or necessitated the enactment?

The four parashiyoth serve to remind us of our seasonal dues toward the Temple: Sh’qalim, to remind everyone to make their monetary contributions, Para, to remind everyone to purify themselves and avoid getting contaminated before Passover, Hahodesh, to remind people to prepare their sacrifices, and, as we explained last year, Zachor, to remind us that we will not succeed in our national mission unless we preemptively destroy those who would destroy us. When Ezra was the leader of the Jews, a minority of the Jewish people heeded the call to return to Eretz Yisrael and join in the rebuilding of the land and the Temple. It was then that he realized that the Jewish people needed a collective, constant, and repetitive reminder of their obligations as a people. These particular commandments require the active participation of the entire nation, unlike any of the other commandments.

….

There are three pertinent verses, the language of which in the original Hebrew are very similar:

Deut. 12:10-11:

But when you go over the Jordan, and dwell in the land which the LORD your God causes you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety; then it shall come to pass that the place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there, to there shall you bring all that I command you.

ibid, 25:19:

Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies round about, in the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance to possess it, that you shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.

II Samuel 7:1-2:

And it came to pass, when the king dwelt in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies round about, that the king said unto Nathan the prophet: ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within curtains.

Thus, David, after getting rid of Amalek and reaching a state when “the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies round about,” sought to build the Temple. The sages connected these three issues in the following law that is codified by Maimonides (Laws of Kings and their Wars, 1:1; Sanhedrin 20b):

[The nation of] Israel was commanded to fulfill three commandments upon entering the Promised Land: a) To choose a king, as Deuteronomy 17:15 states: ‘Appoint a king over yourselves;’ b) To wipe out the descendants of Amalek, as Deuteronomy 25:19 states: ‘Erase the memory of Amalek;’ c) To build God’s Chosen House, as Deuteronomy 12:5 states: ‘Seek out His Presence and go there.’

(It is interesting that the Talmud itself uses the verse I quoted above, 12:10, as opposed to the nearby one Maimonides cites.)

Now, what is the connection between the construction of the Temple and the eradication of Amalek? The answer is, as we explained last year, that we can not succeed in maintaing our Temple, which represents our national mission, if we do not first neutralize the physical threats to our existence.

(part 3)

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