Thursday, February 11, 2016

From Promise to Practice

Feel free to download and print the Parashat Terumah sheet and share it with your friends and family.

From Promise to Practice

During the events of the Giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel have been pretty passive. When asked for their assent to the Torah before and after it was given they responded, "We will do." and they participated in a ceremony marking their covenant with God. But they had not yet had a chance to do anything to demonstrate their commitment in practice.

That all changes in this week's parasha, which opens with a focus on the doing: "Speak to the Children of Israel, and they shall take for me an offering ... And they shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst" (Shemot, 25:2,8). This phrasing carries through the rest of the parasha, opening each new section:

"And they shall make an ark..." (25:10)
"And you shall make a table..." (25:23)
"And you shall make a menorah..." (25:31)
"And the tabernacle you shall make..." (26:1)
"And you shall make a curtain..." (26:31)
"And you shall make an altar..." (27:1)
"And you shall make the court of the tabernacle..." (27:9)

The opportunity to do was enthusiastically embraced. Donations poured in from all people: men and women, laity and leaders. When it came to actually doing the work, everyone brought his or her special talents to the enterprise. Moshe selected Betzalel, Ahaliav, and all those who are blessed with the ability "to do all manner of work, of the engraver, of the craftsman of the embroiderer ... and of the weaver" (35:35). And not only men got involved, but women as well: "And all the women who were wise-hearted spun [wool] with their hands ... and those who were wise-hearted spun the goat's hair" (35:25-26). It is a flurry of activity. The people could finally do, and they did with passion and zest.

The importance of all of this doing is twofold. First, it is the translation of the commands and the covenant into the real world. It is one thing to make a commitment; it is another to act on it. Such action is not only evidence of the sincerity of our commitment; it is its reification and its embodiment. To be in a covenant with God is to act on that covenant, and such action is transformative. It reinforces and internalizes our convictions so that they become real to us on the experiential level. We identify with it - the action and the commitment - and we own it.

This translation of commitment to action is nicely reflected in the custom to begin building our sukkah as soon as Yom Kippur comes to an end. At this moment, we have just spent an entire day - or, ideally, a period of ten days or even forty days - in the process of repentance, of drawing close to God, committing to be better Jews, better people, in the future. If we do nothing at this point, all of the work, while heartfelt and sincere, will evaporate and be as transitory as the day itself. If we want it to be real we must act upon it, taking that newfound passion and translating it into action in the world.

Let us not forget that the sukkah is itself a tabernacle, a type of a mishkan, a place where we remember God's protection and feel God's presence, and that Yom Kippur is the day that Moshe brought down the tablets for the second time. This custom, then, is a reenacting of the building of the tabernacle that followed the second giving of the Torah. Building the sukkah - building the mishkan - is taking our connection to God and finding concrete ways to bring it into the world. It is about creating a space in which God's presence can be felt and may dwell within the people and the world. It is the covenant made real.

But this action is important in another way. For the ability to act is also the ability to bring the wholeness of ourselves, our talents and our personality, into the world and into the service of God. We see in this week's parasha and in those that follow an emphasis on people's artistic ability, their craftsmanship and creativity. And we see it put to religious use as a way of connecting to God and serving God.

This may be very different from our familiar Judaism. The Judaism many of us grew up with taught that one's religious expression, outside of the observance of mitzvot, was to be found in the beit midrash, in the intellectual realm of Torah study. That was where one's passions should be directed and where one might engage their personality and creativity. Sometimes - particularly for women - doing acts of chesed is presented as an alternative to Torah study. But that's about it; that's how one brings his or her passion to the service of God. For some people that works beautifully, but it does not work well for everyone. Many people's creativity and talents lie elsewhere: in music, art, poetry, building, or engineering. But it is rare that such people are given the opportunity to bring their creativity, the fullness of their selves, into the service of God.

It has not always been this way. The Middle Ages saw great rabbinic figures writing religious - and even romantic! - poetry. There has been Jewish art, Jewish illuminated manuscripts, and Jewish music throughout the ages, but society that have encouraged these other creative areas as forms of religious expression have been rare. How many children over the last 2,000 years grew up dreaming of becoming a Jewish artist or a Jewish musician? How many communities have seen the flurry of creative activity we saw when the mishkan was being built? The answer, of course, is very few.

Things are improving. Over the last few generations, and especially in the last decade, we have seen an explosion of Jewish religious creativity taking place in Israel. In a society where religion and Jewish identity is part of the very warp and woof of daily life, where there are so many possible spheres of religious and creative activity, where creative endeavors can be part of a larger community and not just individual pursuits, in such a society, religious creative expression can truly begin to flourish, and it has.

In a particularly moving passage in Adar HaYakar (30-33), Rav Kook critiques the Judaism of the exile, where religious expression had been so limited, so enervated:

If the religious abundance of Israel were to come to the world at a time when the nation was living in the fullness of its natural state that suffused its inner soul, then it never would have accepted upon itself the religious character of those nations that most of our people have lived among, that dark, morose character, that shrivels life and shrinks the soul...

"And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart" - which the Rabbis have interpreted to mean "with your two inclinations (your evil inclination - your passions - and your good inclination), (Berakhot 54a) was not able to be fulfilled in its fullest sense...

He concludes with the wish that this might be reversed in the current State of Israel:

If so, this is the obligation of Israel now, at the time when the desire of the nation has bestirred itself to renew its national energies: to inhale once again, anew, the power of the original divine abundance, that until now has only come to the world in a weak and diminished state and in opposition to life - to inhale it with a soul that is strong, courageous and life-affirming...

This is what it means to translate thought into action, commitment into deed, and to build a place for God in this world. But to build such a place, we need to engage all our talents and abilities; we must engage our entire selves. Perhaps the reason religion does not speak to so many people is that we have so narrowed the scope of what religious action is and can be. If we can remember how many chapters and verses the Torah devotes to the building of the mishkan, then we can hopefully begin to expand our definition of what it means to serve God, what it means to do for God. Let us pray that the creative flourishing that has begun continues to grow and spread so that the entirety of each person, and the entirety of our people, can work to create space for God in this world.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Thought on the Parasha

Walking the Tightrope

Mishpatim has many, many laws. So many that one may be misled into believing that the entirety of one’s obligation as a Jew is halakha and mitzvah. However the end of the parasha makes it clear that all of these mitzvot occur in the context of a brit, a covenant: And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord … And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said na’aseh vi’nishma, will we do, and we will listen (Shemot, 24:4, 7).

A brit demands more than just adherence to the laws, it demands a partnership, a sharing of the vision and an incorporation of that vision into one’s day-to-day life. One way this manifests itself is in the obligation to live up not just to the letter of the law, but to its spirit. To live according to the spirit of the law requires inquiry into the underlying values of the mitzvot. This is often a highly speculative endeavor. As any study of the literature of ta’amei ha’mitzvot, the reasons of the mitzvot, will bear out, the range of explanations as to the underlying value for certain mitzvot can be breathtaking. Nevertheless, it is a process that we are required to undertake if we want to truly be parties to the brit, to truly live our lives according to Torah values and not just Torah law.

Hazal attempted to do this, fully recognizing that the answers would not always be clear. Regarding the mitzvah in this week’s parasha to unburden a donkey which is struggling under its burden (Shemot, 23:5), the Talmud asks whether the underlying principle here is one of concern for the suffering of animals, or whether it is to help the owner whose property might become damaged. In other words, is tza’ar ba’alei chayim, preventing animal suffering, a Biblical principle or not (Baba Metzia 32b)? This question is asked first in regard to interpreting the exact parameters of the mitzvah itself. However, once the Gemara has established that this is a Biblical value, it becomes an independent obligation that plays out in many different contexts in the Talmud (see, for example, Shabbat 128b and Shulkhan Arukh OH 305:18–20). This endeavor, to work to identify the values and then to see the values as operative in our lives, is a core part of understanding the mitzvot as part of a brit, and not just as halakha narrowly defined.

However, this engagement with values and ta’amei ha’mitzvot can be dangerous. It can lead to us believing that the only thing that really matters is the reason behind the mitzvah, that the actual performance is not so important. Hazal were well aware of this concern. “Why did the Torah not give reasons for the mitzvot?” asks the Talmud. “Because in the two places where it did, one of the greatest people stumbled as a result. It says, ‘He [the king] should not have too many wives, lest they lead his heart astray.’ Said Solomon: I will have many wives and not be led astray” (Sanhedrin 21b). In other words, too much talk about reasons leads to devaluing the actual performance.

One way to sensitize ourselves to the Torah’s values is to pay close attention to the written Torah, to its narratives and its pshat, its simple meaning. As Ramban states in the very beginning of his commentary on the Torah, the Torah is not just a book of laws. It begins with Breishit, a narrative, so that we can learn the meaning of our place in this world and the values with which we must live our lives (Breishit, 1:1).

Similarly, when it comes to the mitzvot of the Torah, the pshat of these, even when in contrast to the narrow halakhic interpretation, often contains insight into the underlying values. Thus, the mitzvah not to oppress the stranger (Shemot, 22:20) is understood by the Rabbis to refer only to the convert, while on its pshat level, it refers to a non-Jew who resides within our territory. As a result of this pshat, Sefer HaChinukh interprets this mitzvah as referring to anyone who is in a foreign country and lacks the safety and security of home. We could generalize it further to include anyone who is marginalized and vulnerable. Even if this is not technically included in the mitzvah, it can and should be seen as the underlying value of the mitzvah, and it must guide us in our interactions with others.

Another example is the demand of “an eye for an eye” (Shemot, 21:24). Why is this written so harshly when the Rabbis teach us that the actual law merely requires the responsible party to pay compensation when one inflicts personal injury on another? Ibn Ezra and Rambam explain that this framing communicates a critical message: Do not think that money really corrects the wrong. This is not, at its core, a monetary issue. On a moral level, a person who willfully took out someone else’s eye deserves a similar fate. In practice we will not inflict this punishment—violence begets violence and this will only be hurtful to society—so we accept monetary payment instead. But that is only a substitute, a stand-in. A grave wrong has been done that can never be fully rectified.

Additionally, such focus can lead to too much latitude in interpreting and applying halakha, to a forcing of the details and the texts to conform to a person’s sense of what the underlying values are or should be. Lo darshinan taima di’kra, we don’t use the reasons of the mitzvah in determining its halakhic parameters, is a major principle in the Talmud. True, as we have seen, there are times in which the reasons do play a role, but how and under what circumstances is a serious question. The more speculative the reason, the more it stretches the simple sense of the texts, the less weight it will have in the halakhic process.

Sefat Emet encapsulates these tensions in one of his reflections on na’aseh vi’nishma. He writes that by putting na’aseh before nishma, the people showed that they were committed to doing God’s word regardless of whether or not it made sense to them. Armed with this a priori commitment, they could engage in nishma, an exploration of the reasons for the mitzvot, and not be led astray. More than that, since,

it was more dear in their eyes to do God’s will than to understand the reasons, they merited to understand the reasons … For the reasons are more ‘inner’ (the spiritual essence, the soul) than the actual physical performance (the body) of the mitzvah.

The commitment to observe regardless made the highest performance of mitzvot possible. It allowed for the fullest religious life: the observance of halakha combined with the living of one’s life according to the values of the Torah. One did not substitute for the other; one reinforced the other.

And so it is for the halakhic process. Without an a priori commitment to submit to God’s will, a person may read his or her own values into the halakha, forcing the halakha to say something that is true to his or her values but false to the Torah’s values or the Torah’s laws. But if one starts with a disposition of submission, then, says Sfat Emet, they can truly partner with God, for “God gave the Children of Israel the ability for their words to have the power to be part of the reasons of the Torah, just like God’s words … And this is the idea of the Oral Law: that the Children of Israel merit to innovate those things that were carved out before God.”

We play a role in interpreting and applying halakha. If we come to impose our will on the halakha, then we do violence to the system and we are working in opposition to God. If, however, we come to let the halakha guide us, to be led by the mitzvot and their reasons, then we can be part of the process. We can be part of discovering what those reasons are. We can engage those reasons in interpreting the halakha without the fear that we will overstep, that we will abuse this privilege. Our voice will matter when it is God’s voice that matters most. If we start with na’aseh, we can reach the level of nishma. We can live a religious life, brit in its fullest sense, a life of Torah observance and Torah values, a life guided by God’s law, and a life in an ongoing relationship with God.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Thought on the Parasha

Feel free to download and print the Parashat Yitro sheet and share it with your friends and family.

Time to Grow Up

When Bnei Yisrael receive the Torah, it is much more than a passive act; they actively enter into a brit, a covenant, with God. The brit preceded the giving of the commandments and was its framing:

And now, if you will listen to My voice, and keep My covenant, then you shall be unto Me a treasured possession from all the nations...And Moshe came and called to the elders of the nation, and he placed before them all of these things that God had commanded him. And the entire nation answered together and said, 'Everything that God has said we will do'" (Shemot, 19:5-8).

The brit also comes after the Ten Commandments, in the opening of Parashat Mishpatim: "And these are the laws which you shall place before them" (Shemot, 21:1). This echoes the "placing before them" found in Shemot 19:7, the intention being to place the laws before the people for their approval and willing acceptance, which we find at the close of the same parasha:

And Moshe came and he related to the people all of the words of God and all the laws [the "words" presumably referring to the aseret ha'devarim and the "laws" to the mishpatim, the civil laws] and the entire nation responded as one voice and said, all the words which God has spoken we will do ... And he took the book of the covenant and he read it to the people, and they said: everything that God has spoken we will do and we will hear. And Moshe took the blood and he sprinkled it on the people and he said, "Behold the blood of the covenant which God has made with you concerning all these commands" (Shemot, 24:3-8).

The laws are placed before the people, and they accept them, entering into a brit with God, a binding, two-sided covenant. Thus Bnei Yisrael are not simply commanded; they actively and freely accept the commandment of God and enter into a brit with God.

Why, we might ask, does commandedness not suffice? Would the people not be obligated to follow God's command even if they had not entered into a brit? In fact, the shift from unilateral commadedness to a two-sided brit occurs much earlier, at the beginning of Breishit. Adam and Chava were given a unilateral Divine command, and they violated it. The next time God commands, God does so in the framework of a brit, a relationship: "And I will establish my brit with you, and you will come into the ark..." (Breishit, 6:28), and again when Noah and his family exit the ark:

One who spills the blood of man, by man shall his blood be spilled, because in the image of God God made man ... And I, behold I will establish my brit with you and with your seed after you ... And I will establish my brit with you and no more will all flesh be destroyed from the waters of a flood, and there will no longer be a flood to destroy the land (Breishit, 9:6, 8, 11).

While the brit with Noah relates to the protection of the human species and the world and not to the keeping of mitzvot per se, the mitzvot are, nevertheless, given in the context of this committed relationship and are not merely dictated unilaterally from the all-powerful Lawgiver.

The significance and specificity of brit deepens when God commands Avraham to inscribe in his flesh the sign of the brit and commands him in the brit milah. Here, the purpose of the brit is not merely the survival of species but "an everlasting brit between Me and you, and between your children after you for all generations, to be to you as a God and to your children after you" (Breishit, 17:7). Here, the brit establishes the very relationship between God and the children of Avraham. And now, in Parashat Yitro, the brit deepens even further. With this brit, God chooses the nation of Bnei Israel, and our part is not simply one of identity. Rather, we agree to live up to a code of standards, to do "all the words and all the laws."

What is the difference between being commanded unilaterally and accepting the commands as part of a brit? It is the difference between being a child and being an adult. Adam and Chava in Gan Eden were like children; they had no real, mature opinions of their own, no real values of their own, and no autonomy. They were unilaterally commanded, and all that was asked of them was obedience. All they could do to assert their autonomy was rebel, to refuse to follow God's command. Only once they rebelled and were kicked out of Gan Eden, out of the parental home, did they become autonomous beings able to make their own value judgments: "you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Now, in the post-Edenic world, to reenter a relationship with God we must do so as adults. To be commanded and to follow are not enough. We must bring the entirety of our will, our personality, our values, and our autonomy willingly and freely into a relationship with God. God wants more than followers; God wants partners.

This is a religion of adulthood, not of blind faith and obedience. It is not only one of Commander and commanded, but of parties in a brit. It is a religion in which, through our free acceptance of the mitzvot and our role in interpreting and applying them, in the very enterprise of Torah she'b'al peh, the Oral Torah, we are partners with God. Only parties to a brit can be both deeply and passionately committed to its full observance and at the same time say, "Why should our father's name be lost to his clan because he had no son?" (Bamidbar, 27:3), or, "Why should we be excluded from bringing God's sacrifice in its appointed time together with Bnei Yisrael?" (Bamidbar, 9:7). To be in a bilateral relationship is to be fully committed to participating with the totality of one's personality, without silencing the part of one's soul that asks, "How does this make sense? How is this just?" At the same time, to be a party to a brit is to accept that one must work to find answers within the context of the brit.

To be a party to a brit also means that we do not discharge our obligation simply by doing what is commanded of us. If we are truly partners, then we must internalize the commitments and values of the brit; we must follow the na'aseh (we will do) with the nishma (we will listen, and internalize). We must share and participate in the brit, in its visions and its goals. We must see ourselves as partnering with God in all aspects of our lives, and we must work to bring the world to a better place, to a fuller realization of the values and vision of the Torah and the brit.

In many ways, we have largely abdicated these responsibilities of brit and regressed to living a religion of mere commadedness, living our religious lives as children rather than adults. We find ourselves afraid to ask the questions that deeply trouble us, and if we do, we are often not willing to put in the hard work required to find answers within Torah, to find answers while holding fast to the brit. We don't want to be troubled to do more than keep the mitzvot; we don't want to be told that we need to bring Torah values into our day-to-day (secular) life; and we certainly don't want to accept the responsibility of internalizing a Torah vision within our own, defining our ambitions and our place in the world on the basis of such a brit. Perhaps we are afraid that this would require a total submerging of our own identity, but that is not the nature of a brit. The true brit is a fusing of the fullness of our own personality with the demands, commands, and vision of God and Torah. This is our challenge. Will we continue living the religion of Gan Eden, of simple commadedness, or will we be able to face the challenge of living the religious life of an adult, the religious life of the Torah of Har Sinai, the Torah of a brit?

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Thought on the Parasha

Feel free to download and print the Parashat BiShalach sheet and share it with your friends and family.

Remind Me: What are We Supposed to be Remembering?

The story of Amalek is recorded twice in the Torah: once in our parasha, BiShalach, and again at the end of Parashat Ki Teitzei in Devarim. In our parasha, we are instructed to write a record of what Amalek did to us, but we are not commanded to actively remember the events. God also declares that God has waged an eternal war against Amalek and will destroy the memory of them. In contrast, the passage in Devarim shifts the focus from God to the people. There, we are commanded to remember what Amalek did to us, and we are commanded to wage war against them until we blot out their memory. We become the instruments through which God wages this eternal battle.

If we read the passage from Shemot through this lens, the meaning of God's war against Amalek is clear - God has decreed that the nation of Amalek must be destroyed. But the meaning is much less clear if we read the passage from Shemot on its own. Perhaps this war against Amalek is more theological in nature; perhaps it is a war against what Amalek stands for, namely evil. Rashi comments on the shortened forms of God's name and the word for throne found in the verse, "For a hand is on the throne (keis) of God (y-h), a war for God against Amalek" (Shemot, 17:16). According to Rashi, "God has sworn that neither the divine name nor the divine throne will be whole until the seed of Amalek is destroyed." While Rashi understands this as referring to the actual nation of Amalek, his comment reads quite powerfully as a reference to the idea of Amalek, the zekher Amalek (see Hirsch), the idea of evil. God's name - the expression of God in the world - and God's throne - the recognition of God by all people - can never be complete as long as evil exists in the world. Consistent with this, Rabbi Yehoshua in Mechilta states that God's war against Amalek only begins at that future time when God will sit on the divine throne. For R. Yehoshua, the passage in Shemot refers to a war in future messianic times, a time when evil will be eradicated from the world.

Pronounced differences also exist between the commands related to memory in the two passages. In Shemot, the writing in a scroll - possibly the Torah but quite possibly a war scroll or the like (see Ibn Ezra) - is not done for the sake of the people or for future generations, but to be read in the ears of Yehoshua. And rather than the events of the war itself, it is the theological message that God will blot out the memory of Amalek which is to be written. In contrast, in Devarim there is no scroll and no theological message. Instead, there is an exhortation to the entire people that they remember the events of the war and that they blot out the memory of Amalek.

The differences between these two passages open up a number of interpretative possibilities as to the nature and purpose of this remembering, and these are reflected in the ways Rishonim frame the mitzvah to remember Amalek. Rambam, Tosafot, and Ramban all define this mitzvah differently, and their readings can be seen as different ways of resolving the tension between the passages in Shemot and Devarim.

Rambam states that the mitzvah is "to remember what Amalek did to us...that we should say this at all times, and that we should stir people up with words in order to wage war against the nation, that we should call upon people to hate them, so that the matter not be forgotten or the hatred against them weakened or decreased in people over the course of time" (Book of Mitzvot, Positive Mitzvah 189). For Rambam, the mitzvah to remember is fully directed towards the mitzvah to go to war against Amalek. It would seem that it is a mitzvah for the nation, not for individuals. As a people, we are to keep the memory alive to fuel our passion and move us to wage war against Amalek when the opportunity presents itself. This framing closely tracks the passage in Devarim, which places the command to wage war against Amalek between the command to remember and the command to not forget: "Remember what Amalek did ... When the Lord gives you respite from all your enemies ... you shall surely blot out the memory of Amalek; do not forget." The passage in Shemot, with its reference to a scroll and a theological message, is bracketed. Rambam's explanation finds support from the Sifrei, which states that the mitzvah is one of verbal declaration connected to casting fear in the hearts of the enemies.

In contrast, Tosafot does not connect the mitzvah to waging war. For Tosafot (Megilah (17b), s.v. Kol), the mitzvah is to perform a ritual recitation of the Biblical verses from the Torah scroll: the reading of Parashat Zakhor that we do every year prior to Purim. This approach interprets the mitzvah to remember, which appears in Devarim, through the lens of the writing in a scroll, which appears in Shemot. Tosafot's position finds support in a passage in Megillah (18a) which connects the rabbinic mitzvah of reading the megillah from a scroll to the verse of writing the memory of Amalek in a scroll, indicating that, in the latter case, the mitzvah is also the ritual recitation of verses from a scroll. For Tosafot, the mitzvah is to memorialize rather than to remember, and this is done through a ritual. The goal is not to wage war; it is to preserve sacred history and to place it in the ears of the people in a way that is real and concrete. The memorialization itself is the mitzvah.

Ramban gives a third framing of this mitzvah. For Ramban, the mitzvah is not a war cry or an act of memorializing. It is Talmud Torah. It is a mitzvah to reflect on the theological messages of the narrative of Amalek. Ramban's approach emerges from his analysis of the mitzvah to remember what God did to Miriam when she spoke against Moshe. He states that the purpose of that mitzvah is to learn from those events the severity of the sin of lashon harah and to act accordingly, avoiding evil speech at all times. Ramban writes, "In the same fashion we were commanded regarding remembering what Amalek did to us - so that we should know that it was not for naught that God commanded us to wipe out their name" (Mitzvot that Rambam Omitted, Positive Mitzvah 7). Ramban's approach is supported by Sifra (Behalotecha on Vayikra 26:3), which describes the mitzvah to remember Amalek as a mitzvah to be shoneh bi'ficha, to teach out loud. The verb shoneh, to teach, most obviously echoes the verse from Shema, "vi'shinantem li'vanekha," "and you shall recite them [the words of Torah] to your children," and frames this as a mitzvah of teaching and learning Torah. Moreover, this Sifra opens its discussion with the statement that it is not sufficient to perform the mitzvot; we must also be "ameilim ba'Torah," "toil in our understanding of the Torah." The mitzvah to remember, for Ramban and Sifra, is to understand what lies behind the mitzvah, why God commanded us to destroy Amalek.

Ramban's approach emerges from a parallel reading of the passages in Shemot and in Devarim. In Shemot, the Torah directs our attention to the theological meaning of this war against Amalek, a war that God has undertaken. In Devarim, the emphasis is practical and action based: we are to blot out their memory. Ramban combines the two: we are commanded to remember and reflect on the theological meaning (Shemot) of the mitzvah to wage war against Amalek (Devarim). We do not remember to stir up our passions, and we do not to memorialize for its own sake, but we remember in order to understand.

As a community, we are punctilious in observing Tosafot's ritual memorializing of the story in the form of our annual recitation of Parashat Zakhor. We have simultaneously bracketed Rambam's framing of the mitzvah for the simple reason that we are no longer in a position to actually wage war against Amalek. We need to turn our attention to how to better fulfill the mitzvah as understood by Ramban. The mitzvah to destroy Amalek presents profound theological questions and challenges, many of them residing in the gap between God's war against Amalek in Shemot and the people's war against Amalek in Devarim. The mitzvah to remember Amalek is the parsing of this gap.

Shabbat Shalom!