The Shabbat before Purim is known as Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembering. Reb Mimi Feigelson teaches how Shabbat Zachor foreshadows Purim, enhancing our understanding of the essence of that spirited day while marking the time leading to Passover.
The Zohar (the mystical Book of Splendour) tells us that Purim is the most holy day of the year, one that surpasses even Yom Kippur. Despite its apparent focus on merriment and concealment, it is a day that has the potential to seriously reveal where we came from, who we are becoming and how we manifest ourselves in the world.
Tradition teaches that Haman, the villain of the Purim tale, was an offspring of Amalek, whose cruel behaviour to the wandering Israelites is recalled in the maftir, the additional Torah reading on Shabbat Zachor. We are asked to remember – zachor – that there are ongoing forces that pursue and challenge us as we journey through life. Yet their capacity to shape us has limits, which we expose by flipping zachor on its head.
The special Torah reading begins with the word zachor and concludes with the words lo tishkach (do not forget). Our preparations for Passover are thus propelled by remembering where we come from and what we have inherited from our past, while instilling in us the drive to not forget our innate capacity to create where we are going.
A traditional ballad from the British Isles with a soft, lilting melody begins:
“I know where I’m going
And I know who’s going with me
I know who I love
And the dear knows who I’ll marry.”
It’s a classic, even archetypal tale of yearning across boundaries:
“Some say he’s poor
But I say he’s bonnie
The fairest of them all
My handsome winsome Johnny.”
My mother was the daughter of Russian-, Polish- and Yiddish-speaking immigrants who arrived in Montreal in 1933, where my mother was born the following spring. She liked to say she was “Made in Poland, born in Canada.” My father was an American who spoke no Yiddish or Hebrew, whose family had left the old country decades before he was born. He was a poor bookkeeper, taken in as a boarder and employee by friends of my grandparents, and a handsome prospect, at 30, for their 21-year-old daughter.
The month of Adar brings both of my parents’ yahrzeits. Though they died decades apart, there is a bitter-sweetness in their coming together this way in memoriam.
The Shabbat before Purim invites us to wear the experience of knowing and acknowledging where we come from while we dress up for a great party just ahead.
Remembering is our inheritance. Not forgetting is our commitment. Celebrating is our joy.
In honour of Irwin ‘Buddy’ Bolton z”l d. 7 Adar 5726, and Rebecca ‘Ruth Raby’ Bolton z”l d. 12 Adar I 5763.