Special Sabbaths

Recounting the moral obligations of Purim before the celebration begins

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Shabbat Zakhor

The Sabbath preceding Purim, "Shabbat of Remembrance," sets the stage for the Purim tale. We must read its particular extra portion (Deuteronomy 25: 17-19) accompanied by its haftarah(I Samuel 15:2) once a year. This is because 12 months is the period of time after which we generally forget things, it defines the period of mourning for a deceased loved one, and identifies when an abandoned object is considered ownerless. Since the parasha [Torah portion] commands us to remember the deeds of Amalek and erase his memory, the Sabbath preceding Purim is the most appropriate occasion for reading it.

The purpose of the parasha, which is to be heard by both men and women, is to warn us of the consequences of not eliminating what threatens to destroy us. What we must blot out is the vestige of Amalek (evil); what we must not forget is our own Jewishness (moral responsibility). The week before we will hear about how the assimilated Jews of Persia were almost eliminated, we are being warned not to so identify with the society around us that we lose our unique identity and mission.

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Lesli Koppelman Ross is a writer and artist whose works have appeared nationally. She has devoted much of her time to the causes of Ethiopian Jewry and Jewish education.