Every year on the Shabbat before Purim, we read Parashat Zachor, an excerpt from Ki Teitzei teaching us of the commandment to constantly remember what Amaleik did to us. An oft asked question as this Parashah draws near is whether or not one is Yotzei the Mitzvah of, “Zachor Eit Asher Asah Amaleik,” “Remember what Amaleik did to you” (Devarim 25:17) by simply hearing Parashat Zachor, or is he actually required to erase all traces of their existence from the face of the earth? It seems to be contradictory that there is a Mitzvah to destroy all traces of Amaleik, yet we are also commanded to remember Amaleik. How do we understand this contradiction between the Mitzvah of remembering Amaleik and the Mitzvah of erasing their memory?
In order to answer these questions, we need to fully understand the nature of Amaleik and their horrid characteristics. When Amaleik first attacked Bnei Yisrael following Yetzi’at Mitzrayim in Refidim, the attack was completely unprovoked and unnecessary. Bnei Yisrael were extremely vulnerable and clearly posed minimal threat to the mighty Amaleik. This notion of “kicking someone when they’re down” is one that Amaleik strongly exemplified in their attack. In the second Pasuk of Parashat Zachor, it is noted that Amaleik did not “fear God” as the Torah states: “Asheir Karcha BaDerech VaYezaneiv BeCha Kol HaNecheshalim Acharecha VeAtah Ayeif VeYagei’a VeLo Yarei Elokim,” “How they met you on your journey and struck the weak and unable, when you were all weary, but they did not fear God” (Devarim 25:18). While some say that this is understandable because Amaleik were not Jewish, the Netziv takes a different approach. The Netziv says that when “fearing God” is mentioned throughout the Torah, it is not mentioned in a sense of religiosity, rather in a sense of basic human morality to fear and revere that which is superior to us. Thus, according to the Netziv’s interpretation, Amaleik were a people devoid of any morality.
Another example of Amaleik’s wicked qualities is the juxtaposition of Parashat Zachor to the Torah’s previous discussion of financial honesty: being uncorrupt and not cheating in economic transactions. This juxtaposition leads many Meforashim to think that this is something which Amaleik is known for.
The Torah’s description of Amaleik’s malicious qualities is the key to answering the above questions. While we are supposed to remember all of the terrible things Amaleik did to us, we must simultaneously forget their terrible qualities, such as taking advantage of the vulnerable, lacking rudimentary ethics and decency, and operating businesses in untrustworthy and duplicitous fashions, that they tried to impose on Bnei Yisrael when they attacked them. We need to clear our minds of such destructive ideas and instead focus on wiping out the harbingers of those ideas.
For that reason, Rav Moshe Shternbach, in the Mo’adim UZemanim (Cheilek 2: Simanim 165, 167), argues that one must fully understand the Pesukim he is hearing in order to fulfill his obligation. If one does not truly comprehend the magnitude of Amaleik’s actions and terrible personality traits, how will he recognize how important it is that he forget such attributes and ensure that they have no place in his life? Therefore, in order to forget those qualities and guarantee they are not incorporated into Jewish life, our only option is to remember the people of Amaleik and the atrocities that they dared to perform.