This Shabbos before Purim, we recall a national trauma. We were an infant nation, freshly birthed from the labor pains of slavery and miraculous redemption. We were just finding our footing, beginning to trust the possibility of living free, following Hashem into the desert, and finally believing that we would be okay. And then, we weren’t. Amalek attacked. It wasn’t our only military blow, but it was, in a way, our first.
It was such a big deal that the Torah instructs us to talk about and remember it regularly. This Mitzvah is curious. On the one hand, it begins with the word “remember”- zachor. Yet the goal seems to eradicate the memory- “timcheh.”
Are we meant to remember or to erase?
Clearly, the goal is some sort of synthesis. To incorporate the event into our collective memory in a way that provides a legacy. A textual analysis of these verses yields psychological insight into this seemingly paradoxical process:
“Remember what Amalek did to you…”
Remember- don’t deny or repress the memory. The first step to processing what happened is to acknowledge it. Speak it out; as Dr. Dan Siegel teaches, if you can name it, you can tame it.
“What [they] did to you”:
A significant feature of post-trauma is self-blame, sometimes explicitly narrated by the perpetrator and sometimes internalized by the survivor. But an essential element of healing is realizing and reassigning misplaced blame. This happened to you when someone else took advantage of your vulnerability.
“On the way, when you left Egypt.”
Note the context- the where and when of the story. A feature of traumatic memory is the excruciating detail, the flashbacks and triggers, which pull the past time and place into the present, where it can poison the future. Empowered processing includes filing it in the correct autobiographical chronology, so it doesn’t leak all over the newer chapters.
“That they coldly/ happened to you on the way, preying on the weak, tired, and strained, irreverent.”
Trauma is messy; cruelty is cold. Understanding the source and consciously recalling context clues and feelings can help us understand the susceptibility of that situation and contrast it with our current safety and empowerment. It can also shrink the impact and clear space for a resilient future.
“And when Hashem gives you rest from surrounding enemies, in your inherited land,”
Reorienting to the present time and place reinforces the hope, security, and safety of no longer being in danger and needing to hold and feel the pain. We no longer need to fight, flee, or freeze. We can settle into the promised land, surrounded by prosperity and love. Access the promised land of deliverance, the holding environment, and be free from affliction. It’s over; you are okay now.
“Negate the memory of Amalek from under the Heavens”-
Doing all this- the acknowledgment, the feeling, the focus, the context, the reassignment, the transcendence, the re-centering of body and mind into the present time and safer place- is the start of healing. That experience negates and shrinks the potency of the memory from perpetuating its toxic effect.
“Don’t forget” –
Healing does not mean ignoring. Integrating the experience, the empirical demonstration of strength, the pain, the capacity of evil, and the triumph of good, allows you to live deeper. It once happened, but now it is over, and you made it. Remembering in this way, in this framework- tested, wiser, bolder, that’s how we overcome the darkness. We don’t capitulate to the nightmare- we rise strong, battle scars and all.
Remember, reframe, eradicate, but don’t forget.