by R. Ari Enkin
The Torah commands us to remember (“zachor”) that the Amalekites attacked the Jewish people shortly after their departure from Egypt. Devarim 25:17. This is a mitzva that must be done verbally Megilla18a. and according to many authorities, it must be read from a text. Megilla18a; Tosfot, Megilla 17b. There is also a view that a minyan must be in attendance when reading the Zachor portion in order to properly fulfill the mitzva. Rosh, Berachot 7:20. Today, we fulfill this mitzva by listening to a special Torah reading about the Amalek incident on Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim. The reading of Parshat Zachor might just be the only Torah reading that is required by the Torah itself. All other Torah readings, both weekday and Shabbat and Yom Tov, are rabbinical enactments. Bach, OC 685; Magen Avraham 685. While there is a view that the reading of “Parah” is also a Biblical requirement, the halacha is not in accordance with this view. Mishna Berura 685:15; Aruch … Continue reading
Mysteriously absent from the command to remember Amalek is the frequency with which this mitzva must be performed. Although universal custom is to perform it annually on the Shabbat before Purim, it may only truly be required every three years. Chinuch 603. It is explained that today’s practice of performing it once a year is based on the teaching that it takes a year for something to be truly forgotten. Chatam Sofer, EH 119.
There is much discussion on how the word “zecher” in the reading is to be pronounced. As such, it is customary to read that verse twice, first as “zecher” and then as “zeicher.” In some congregations, only the actual word is repeated, not the entire verse. Mishna Berura 685:18. One should make an effort to hear the reading in one’s dialect of Hebrew. For example, Yemenites should hear it read in the Yemenite pronunciation of Hebrew, and Ashkenazim should hear it read in the Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew. Nevertheless, one who heard it in a dialect different than one’s own has still fulfilled the mitzva. See Mo’adim U’zmanim 2:170; Mikraei Kodesh 2; Igrot Moshe, OC 3:5.
According to some authorities, women are exempt from this mitzva. This is because a component of the mitzva of remembering Amalek is also to wage war against them, and to destroy them. Since women are exempt from military duty, and by extension, are ineligible to participate in Amalek’s physical destruction, they are also exempt from the mitzvah to remember their ambush. Chinuch 603. According to most other authorities, women are obligated to hear the Zachor reading just like men, and therefore, they should attend the synagogue on Shabbat Zachor in order to hear the reading. Minchat Chinuch 603; Rivevot V’yovlot 4:42; Binyan Tzion 8.
Interestingly, although it is a mitzva to hear the Zachor reading, no blessing is recited before performing it. This is because the reading of Parshat Zachor is essentially a component of the mitzva to destroy Amalek. No blessing is recited on a mitzva that requires destruction, even of an evil enemy nation. Kaf Hachaim, OC 685:29. Indeed, even though we look forward to the destruction and eradication of all the enemies of the Jewish people, it is not something that we should be especially excited to have to fulfill. God is not happy at the death of anyone – even the most wicked. Maharam Schik, OC 336. Similarly, a blessing is not recited because it is a mitzva that cannot be performed in its entirety nowadays – we can only “remember” Amalek — we are unable to destroy them, as there is no nation that can be positively identified as Amalek nowadays. See Chaim Sha’al 91; Ritva, Yoma 38a; Mishna, Yadayim 4:4; Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 5:4; Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Biah 12:25; Smag 227.
Another reason that a blessing is not recited before parshat Zachor is that although we only publicly read parshat Zachor once a year, the mitzva to remember Amalek is actually a constant mitzva that applies every single day. As such, it is a mitzva without a specific time frame or even frequency, and therefore, a blessing is not recited. Mishne Halachot 7:81.
One who is unable to hear parshat Zachor from a Torah should at least read it out loud from a Chumash. Nitei Gavriel, Purim 19:12. So too, one who missed the reading on Shabbat Zachor can still fulfill the mitzva of remembering Amalek by listening attentively to the Torah reading on Purim morning, which deals with the same theme. Magen Avraham 685:1. In deference to the view that requires the mitzva of remembering Amalek to be performed every twelve months, in a year in which there are thirteen months, one should have in mind to fulfill the mitzva of remembering Amalek when the Torah portion of Ki Teitzei is read. Maharam Schik on Taryag Mitzvot; Nitei Gavriel 19:13.
|↑3||Megilla18a; Tosfot, Megilla 17b.|
|↑4||Rosh, Berachot 7:20.|
|↑5||Bach, OC 685; Magen Avraham 685. While there is a view that the reading of “Parah” is also a Biblical requirement, the halacha is not in accordance with this view. Mishna Berura 685:15; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 685:7.|
|↑6, ↑10||Chinuch 603.|
|↑7||Chatam Sofer, EH 119.|
|↑8||Mishna Berura 685:18.|
|↑9||See Mo’adim U’zmanim 2:170; Mikraei Kodesh 2; Igrot Moshe, OC 3:5.|
|↑11||Minchat Chinuch 603; Rivevot V’yovlot 4:42; Binyan Tzion 8.|
|↑12||Kaf Hachaim, OC 685:29.|
|↑13||Maharam Schik, OC 336.|
|↑14||See Chaim Sha’al 91; Ritva, Yoma 38a; Mishna, Yadayim 4:4; Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 5:4; Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Biah 12:25; Smag 227.|
|↑15||Mishne Halachot 7:81.|
|↑16||Nitei Gavriel, Purim 19:12.|
|↑17||Magen Avraham 685:1.|
|↑18||Maharam Schik on Taryag Mitzvot; Nitei Gavriel 19:13.|