Conserving the 'Haman energy'
In blurring the distinction between the two figures, alcohol ostensibly enables people to find the Mordecai that is in Haman, as well as the Haman in Mordecai.
Tomorrow, the reading of Parashat Zakhor will end with a maftir from the Book of Exodus. That passage contains the famous injunction relating to Amalek: "Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, all that were enfeebled in thy rear, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget" (Deuteronomy 25:17-19 ).
There are actually several imperatives in this passage, which opens with zakhor (remember ) and closes with lo tishkach (thou shalt not forget ) - two "mental" commandments, experienced only in the mind, aimed at preserving Amalek in the collective Jewish memory. In between these two is the main directive, timheh et zekher Amalek (thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek ), which is to be followed not in a mental way, but rather in the world that exists "under heaven." The commandment entails two stages. First is recollection of the injunction to blot out all recollection of Amalek. When the Israelites arrive in the Promised Land, they are commanded to carry out this act of erasure. Thereafter, the commandment, together with the Israelites' perpetual enemy, can be forgotten.
However, the commandment to blot out Amalek soon eluded its political meaning. Our sages thoroughly deconstructed it when they declared that Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had mixed up the nations - that is, sent some peoples into exile and brought other peoples as replacements into the homelands of the exiled nations. As a result, the sages argued, it is impossible to know who does and who does not belong to the Amalek people. In terms of its original genetic identity, this people is indeed lost in the world that exists "from under heaven."
That does not necessarily mean it is erased: The enemy nation is dispersed, but its memory is not truly blotted out forever. Thus, the manner of observance of the commandment has totally shifted away from the mental sphere, and is recreated; it has become a stunning oxymoron. Although we are commanded to remember that the memory of Amalek must be erased, it continues to exist, albeit only in our minds; there is a contradiction inherent in the commandment.
Our sages "transferred" the injunction about erasing Amalek's memory from the political realm to the world of language: Amalek is no longer a concrete entity, but rather a perspective through which reality is viewed. The individual looks around, interpreting reality with the help of this "prism," identifies enemies in his immediate vicinity and feels he must erase them, whether the adversary is the "Amalek that is within me," modern anti-Semites, enemies of the state, enemies of religion - or any other manifestation of evil, according to the interpreter's opinion. Amalek has undergone a metamorphosis from genus to mythos.
Parashat Zakhor, with the passage from Deuteronomy about expunging Amalek's memory from under heaven, is always read on the Sabbath preceding the holiday of Purim because Haman the Agagite in the Book of Esther is a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites. The latter, eventually executed by the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 15 ), rules the nation that attacked the Israelites after their Exodus from Egypt and that "smote the hindmost of thee, all that were enfeebled in thy rear."
The first link in the "chain" of the Amalekite nation is located in the Sinai desert, and the chain extends to King Saul's war against Amalek and to the Book of Esther; indeed, it reverberates to this very day in any discourse that uses biblical metaphors to interpret reality. Our sages in essence stretch this chain in various directions. In the Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Megillah, there is a series of homilies all of which relate to the search for allusions in the Torah to figures in Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther. "Where in the Torah is Esther alluded to?" asks the Gemara, then going on to describe a verse that can be seen to refer to Megillat Esther, in which God is concealed and not mentioned in it at all: "And I will surely hide (haster ) my face in that day" (Deut. 31:18 ). The Hebrew word haster sounds similar to the name Esther.
Similarly, the righteous Mordecai, whose name, for various reasons, is linked to the spices used in the portable Tabernacle, is alluded to in the verse "Take thou also unto thee the chief spices, of flowing myrrh" (Exodus 30:23 ). In his Aramaic translation to the biblical text, Onkelos renders the two Hebrew words mor dror (flowing myrrh ), as meira dakhya, which sounds like Mordecai. The name Haman is alluded to in the verse, "Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?" (Genesis 3:11 ). The first Hebrew word in this verse, which contains a question that God poses to Adam, is hamin; it has the same root consonants, heh-mem-nun, as the name Haman, although the two words are vowelized differently. However, that verse from Genesis also contains an additional layer: Haman the Agagite is identified here with the almost rhetorical question that God addresses to Adam, following commission of the sin in the garden; all this is called up to memory by the figure of Haman. The very existence of Haman - and, figuratively speaking, of evil in general - is thus tied to the fact that Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge, and this is alluded to in the verse from Genesis.
Our sages thus formulated what can be called "the Law of the Conservation of the Haman Energy," concerning the evil force that was "conceived" along with the sin in the garden, and which took many forms in the Bible: While attacking the Israelites in the Sinai desert, as Amalek, it "smote the hindmost of thee, all that were enfeebled in thy rear"; as Agag, it was executed by Samuel; and in "Shushan the castle," as Haman, it plotted to kill the Jews in the Persian empire. And this same wicked power still exists in our world today.
The moment Amalek became a prism through which reality is to be deciphered - the possibility of erasing the memory of it vanished. Like evil, Amalek became an integral part of reality - or even, it can be argued, of God. For there is no reality without Amalek, just as there is no godhead without Amalek. However, almost to the same extent, humanity cannot exist without trying to blot out Amalek's memory.
A further expression of this can even be found in the custom of making a loud noise during the reading of the Scroll of Esther whenever Haman's name is mentioned - with the help of ra'ashanim (in Hebrew ) or groggers (in Yiddish ), and other such instruments. When the noise dies down, the reader proceeds. The erasure (mehiya) or drowning out of the narrative becomes a form of protest (meha'a). The noisemaking in this case is not a heroic attempt to banish evil from the world, but rather a sort of "expression of opinion": that I hate evil, that I want to have nothing to do with it, but also that, on the other hand, evil exists. Even if I make a lot of noise so as not to hear that evil, it will be mentioned again a few verses later.
So, what can we do about evil? Purim invites us to perform another "mental" commandment, which is no less of an oxymoron: "People must get so drunk on Purim that they can no longer distinguish between 'Haman is cursed' and 'Mordecai is blessed.'" In blurring the distinction between the two figures, alcohol ostensibly enables people to find the Mordecai that is in Haman, as well as the Haman in Mordecai. Perhaps intoxication, together with a restrained use of a noisemaker, will enable the performance of the commandment of erasing Amalek once a year, even if only for a little while.