Parshat T’zaveh continues the account of God’s instructions to Moses concerning the building of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness. It concentrates on the inauguration of Aaron and his sons as the first priests of the Israelite people, an event of political as well as religious significance. From now on, priesthood and prophecy will be clearly divided. The priests will become the ‘establishment’, generally upholding the status quo, while the prophets will consider themselves answerable to God alone. We find this idea of prophecy easy enough to accept at a safe distance in Ancient Israel, but its wider implications are problematic: when does the prophet become the fanatic? And who draws the line?
In fact we have long ceased to accept unquestioningly everything that the Bible tells us, and there are some texts that we struggle with more than others. This is also Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat immediately before Purim, when we traditionally read the commandment, in Deuteronomy 25:17-19 to ‘remember’ Amalek – an obscure collection of nomadic tribes who inflicted fairly minor damage compared with Israel’s other enemies. Yet they are singled out as Israel’s arch-enemy, to be annihilated on the one hand, but never to be forgotten on the other. So what is the connection? Our sanitized Purim of fancy dress and
has a dark side: it’s about plotting and revenge, and it’s another carefully contrived chapter in the saga of Amalek. Mordechai is a descendant of King Saul and Haman is a descendant of Agag, King of Amalek; their confrontation in 1 Samuel 15 is replayed, with variations, in the Persian court of Ahasuerus. The link is irrational hate and paranoia.
One may claim that Jewish paranoia has been amply justified over the centuries, but we still have to ask – does it strengthen or enrich us, is this a heritage that we wish to bequeath to our children? We have to confront the horrors of the Jewish past, as well as the moral ambiguities implicit in the existence of the State of Israel. But the myth of an eternal enemy, re-imagined in every generation, is not a way forward; it’s a way back into barbarity.
Rabbi Tirzah Ben-David serves as the rabbi of
Shir Hatzafon Progressive Jewish Community
, in Copenhagen, Denmark.
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