Always remember not to forget!

This week we mark the yahrzeit of my friend and teacher Anita Winer, z’l, who died in 2011 at the age of 92. Coincidentally, yesterday was Shabbat Zachor (the Shabbat before Purim), when we read the story of Amalek, with its seemingly contradictory instruction not to forget to blot out the memory of Amalek, an insurgent who attacked B’nai Yisrael from behind as we were leaving the land of Egypt. The passage reads in part:

“You shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

and much is made of the puzzling instruction to remember to forget. Or is it forget to remember?

It’s confusing. At this season, we read two accounts (Amalek and Megillat Esther) that commingle triumph and retribution. Yes, the plans against us were foiled, but afterward we took a mighty vengeance, one that might these days be called disproportionate. We are supposed to remember these things and teach them down the generations, while we struggle simultaneously to blot out the memory of the injustices that have befallen us. In our minds, Amalek blurs with Haman, who blurs with modern-day enemies and perceived enemies. Traditionally, we are supposed to get so drunk on Purim that we can’t tell the difference between good and evil – yet we are never to forget (to remember) to forget. I don’t understand: are we paying attention, or aren’t we?

Anita, in her wonderful wisdom, would not shy away from how troubling these stories were, always pressing those of us privileged to study alongside her to look deeply into them and draw out meanings that make sense for our times. About the Amalek story, she taught me — both in words and by her actions in her long life — that after difficult experiences, rather than dwelling in the memory of things we have lost, we gain strength when we decide to move forward with what remains.

In Adar, we are commanded to be joyful, and yet I miss my dear friend and continue to mourn her loss. My sons wisely tell me that the joy is in remembering how fortunate we were to have had her as a friend and in cherishing how much we learned from her. My sons have learned well.

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