When God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!
The last verse of this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitsei, captures the complexity of trauma and memory. One part of the verse tells us to wipe out the memory of Amalek, the tyrannical nation that set out to kill the Israelites in the desert. The second part commands us to not forget. Which one is it? At times, we focus all our energy on wiping out those who have or will hurt us, to the point where our pain turns into hatred. We perhaps give short shrift to the exhortation to remember the human suffering that results from any enmity, and to strive to choose differently in our own lives.
Eighteen years ago today, the world watched in disbelief as the horrific, unspeakably violent and cruel terrorist attacks of 9/11 resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives. We promised to never forget these victims, and to never forget the hatred that brought the world to that moment.
In fulfilling the command to remember, we must not forget who we are as Jews and as humans. We cannot use faith as a tool to exclude others rather than welcome the stranger. The command to remember did not and cannot include Islamophobia, xenophobia, and turning away the stranger. We must not get so entangled in the first part of the verse, wiping out those who hurt us, that we forget the second part.
Do not forget that hate fueled the heinous actions of that morning 18 years ago and that hate has no home here.
Do not forget the outpouring of love and solidarity in the weeks that followed,
Do not forget our obligation to honor the memories of those we lost by living out our highest ideals and not succumbing to fear and hurt.
May the memories of those precious souls always be a blessing.