Remember to blot out the memory…
Exodus 17:14 Then YHWH said to Moses, “Inscribe this in a document as a reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven!”
Deuteronomy 25:17 Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—18how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. 19Therefore… you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!
When I twice wrote letters into Torahs, I performed the ritual of physically blotting out Amalek’s name (see above). I have read these verses repeatedly but they never spoke to me on a psychospiritual level. Until this morning.
For too many years, I have watched myself spend too much time focusing on what this or that person has “done” to me. Always, the person had issues that bled into my own experience: the ex-boyfriend who “done me wrong,” the ex-wife who never let go of her anger at my husband, the teacher who picked on students, the classmate who took up too much space in the room. As I’ve worked conscientiously on this issue, I’ve come to learn that–while the person might indeed be challenging, the amount of energy I expend is out of proportion to their actual impact on my life, and usually their behavior has nothing to do with me. Indeed the energy I spend there crowds out the veritable wealth of goodness in my life: the husband and daughter (and other family) who love me, the friends who sustain me, the congregants who share with me. This been such a recurring theme for me and so many people I know that I wrote a Kol Nidre sermon that suggested that we “not rent space” to someone like that in our heads, to try to focus on the good, and let the negative go.
Most recently, on resigning my position as rabbi to a wonderful community in order to try to restore my beloved daughter’s health, my blessing cup has overflowed with love expressed by the community, love that I send back to them. And yet a very small number of people have been—well, less than kind—and I have spent too much of my energy worrying about them. Sam and I have discussed evicting them from my head, so that I can focus on the gratitude I feel for the opportunity I have had to do what I trained to do, with wonderful, receptive, welcoming human beings.
And then it hit me: THIS is what the Torah is teaching when it tells us to remember to blot out the name of Amalek. Amalek, the potential grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:12), the leader of the tribe that picked off and killed our most vulnerable while we were in the wilderness (Exodus 17:8), the embodiment of all that is hateful in the world, or the people who plague us… If we spend too much of our time dwelling on them, they crowd out the good in our lives and our ability to move forward. And sometimes we—certainly I—need to be reminded to concentrate on forgetting them.
The focus on the bad things in our lives may come from an evolutionary need to make sure we are attentive to danger: watch out for the person who is trying to harm you—with words or with actions. Pay attention; find your escape route.
But some of us spend more time noting danger than seeing the beauty of the world we live in, the love, the joy, the beautiful relationships. We need to consciously and mindfully remember to forget about the people who might have harmed us. We need help in reminding ourselves to let go of the worry, let go of the pain, wash that man/woman/person out of our hair and send them on their way. When the memories sweep over us, we need to remember to set them aside. We need to remember to forget.
Just a reminder.