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Those WE Leave Behind #617

03/06/2020 04:00:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Shabbat Zachor: The Sabbath of Remembrance
"Remember what Amalek did to you  on your journey...Do not forget!" 
(Deuteronomy 25:17,19)

Remembering Those We Leave Behind

The Jewish people have become very good at remembering.

We remember the Holocaust, and remain forever vigilant against signs of renewed anti-Semitism. During Passover, we remember our liberation from Egypt, and dedicate ourselves to combating slavery and oppression in our time.

Indeed, generations of persecution have inclined us towards remembering the pain of others, and this helps us dedicate ourselves to a more just future, not only for ourselves, but for everyone.

So it is no surprise that within Judaism, there is a Shabbat officially dedicated towards the idea of "remembering." This Sabbath, we will observe Shabbat Zachor -- based on a Biblical commandment to "remember."

But are we remembering the right thing?

In this week's Torah reading, we are reminded to recall Amalek, a heartless nation which swooped down upon the Israelites during our initial days of liberation from Egypt.

Amalek, attacking from the rear, victimized our most vulnerable which likely included seniors, the physically challenged and others who could not keep up.

What a coldblooded and cowardly act!

We are particularly reminded of Amalek at this time, because Haman, the villain of the Purim holiday, which begins Monday night, is said to have been descended from Amalek.

We are told to remember in every generation that there will be individuals and nations who will take aim at us - often attacking at our most vulnerable point.

This week we are commanded to "remember what Amalek did to you on your shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!" (Deut. 17, 19)

For years I accepted the traditional extension of this text; that anti-Semitism and senseless attacks have, and will always, exist. Therefore, we must "stand on guard."

But the more that I watch our son John-and so many others with similar conditions-navigate a world that doesn't slow down for anyone, I ask myself, "Have we forgotten something?"

Most critically, I ask myself, "What were the seniors, the physically and cognitively challenged, those who could not keep up, doing back there in the first place?"

Shouldn't they have been surrounded by our people, rather than lagging behind them?  How well have we as Jews and as a society done to ensure that our most vulnerable travel with us as equals?

Until recently, most synagogues left the physically challenged behind. Restroom stalls were, and sometimes remain, too narrow. Doorways are often impassable. Corners are too sharp. 

Spaces are not designated for wheelchairs and walkers to park without creating embarrassment for those who enter in search of spiritual connection.

How many of our mezuzot are placed above the reach many who face physical challenges?

So what, exactly, do we really need to remember this Shabbat?

Early in my journalism career, I accepted the challenge of a wheelchair-confined resident. "Come with me and travel together for a day in a wheelchair," she urged. "You'll see how impossible it is to conduct my business with dignity."

Curbs were steep. Restrooms inaccessible. Designated parking stalls were often occupied by those who were not disabled. We had to be carried up the steps to the local post office-and only after someone noticed or cared.

Is this the type of respect God wants?

Indeed, the traditional theme of this week's Torah portion and its focus on "remembering" still holds. As Pittsburgh and Charlottesville reminded us, as Jews, we need to remain collectively vigilant.

But let us also remember that, in our tradition, everyone is created equal. Each of us has a gift to bestow upon this world. Each of us is precious in God's sight.

Therefore, we need to ask ourselves, Are we leaving anyone behind?

With Purim and Passover approaching, let us consider, are we in danger of forgetting anyone-a senior, someone who is physically or cognitively challenged, or others whose disabilities are not immediately visible to us?

On this Shabbat Zachor--a Sabbath to remember--let us indeed focus on those who have, and could in future, cause us harm. But let us also consider how we can bring those victimized by Amalek closer to the heart of our communities. For those victims live in an often indifferent world.

How can we look at Judaism and the world of access and mobility through the eyes of those whose capacity is limited? 

How can we remember the biases and indifference which continue to this day?

Perhaps most importantly during this, our Shabbat of Remembrance, how can we confront our Amalek within?

Shabbat Shalom, v'kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780