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Toward Shabbat: Ki Tetze

My name is Aaron Leven and I am honored to be joining BJ as a Marshall T. Meyer rabbinic fellow this year. While I am a proud Angeleno, I have spent the better part of my adult life in New York City, and have long admired BJ’s ability to harmonize progress and tradition, ritual, and innovation; and individuality with community. Whether it be over Zoom or a cup of coffee, I look forward to getting to know the BJ community in the coming weeks. Please feel free to reach out at aleven@bj.org and we will find some time to connect!

The idea of harmonizing apparent contradictions is one I have thought of a lot over these summer months. After a challenging fall and spring, we witnessed a vaccine roll-out that gave us hope. We marked our calendars for Fourth of July as President Biden assured us that, if all went according to plan, this day would serve as an overdue reunion with life as it had been before—or at least a facsimile of it. And yet, with another fall around the corner, we find ourselves still in the midst of this pandemic. Unlike the earlier days, when we believed, naively, that this would end without lasting impression on our psyches, we find ourselves now both desperately ready for it to be over, and keenly aware of the fact that, at least in our souls, it may never be.

At the end of this week’s parashah, we are told to remember the great atrocities that Amalek inflicted on us and to blot out their memory from under heaven. Despite this being just one of the 74 commandments we read in Ki Tetze, it is one that many of our commentators struggle with mightily—surely the God we believe in could not expect us to kill an entire nation. Many resolve this by understanding Amalek not as a people but instead as a dogma or mindset. However, even if we accept this interpretation, how are we to both remember it and blot it out?

We have all had moments of remembering in the past year to grab our masks before heading out the door, to separate ourselves from our neighbors by six feet, to read the news and sit with the pain around us. But we have also had moments of blotting out: forgetting our realities by getting lost in a novel, cooking a meal, laughing about nothing with a friend over the phone.

The last words of the parashah, immediately after we are told to blot out Amalek, concludes, “Do not forget!” The Ramban argues that this command is different from the one telling us to remember, it is an act all on its own. In some cases, the differences between remembering and not forgetting feel negligible, arbitrary even. But this year, while remembering will mean taking all of the necessary steps to safely navigate our COVID world, not forgetting will mean honoring the loved ones we have lost, the heroism of our frontline workers, and those for whom the vaccine still remains inaccessible. As we head into another year of this pandemic, may it be God’s will that we remember to care for our neighbors, blot out pain with joy when we need reprieve, and not forget the immeasurable impact this has had, so that we may eradicate this Amalek from under heaven, together.

Written By Aaron Leven

A fourth-year rabbinical student, Aaron Leven has spent most of his life deeply involved in Jewish community and education. He is pursuing the rabbinate in order to dedicate his life to creating dy...

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