The Shabbat prior to Purim, known as Shabbat Zakhor, takes its name from the first word of the special maftir (additional Torah reading) for the day, which retells the story of the first post-enslavement attack against the newly freed Israelites:
Remember (zakhor) what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt . . . You shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
We read the underlying narrative, Exodus 17:8–16, on Purim day.
The link with Purim is Haman, a descendant of Amalek genetically and more importantly characterologically: we understand Amalek and Haman to not be simply historic figures, but paradigms, personifications, of radical evil.
Indeed, a primary focus of Purim and the Scroll of Esther—informed by the Amalek narratives—is the theology and anthropology of evil:
What is the source of evil, and how can we square its existence with our beliefs about God? Does it arise at random, preying on innocence and vulnerability? Or do we open ourselves to the power of evil when we are morally compromised, as individuals or societies? What roles do God, and our faith and action, play in preventing and responding to evil?
The masks and humor of Purim give us the courage to ask these unnerving questions in a safe environment, allowing deep questions to emerge and be examined without full accountability (after all, we’re only playing). And we parody our most sacred beliefs and practices—an annual inoculation against thinking that our religion is God—lest in our confusion we become a source of evil ourselves.
In that spirit, I hope you will enjoy this interpretation of the Amalek/Haman story, sung to a familiar tune. Read the annotated lyrics.
Purim lyrics © Rabbi Jan Uhrbach
Backing track courtesy of Karaoke-Version.com