In the section of the Torah read on Shabbat Zakhor (Devarim 25:17-19), we read of the command to remember Amalek’s attack on Benei Yisrael, and how they struck “kol ha-necheshalim acharekha,” which is generally understood to mean, “all those among you who straggled behind.” The Sifrei, however, explains, “This teaches that [Amalek] killed only the people who fell away from the ways of the Almighty and were too weak to remain underneath the Wings of the Shekhina.” According to the Sifrei, the word “necheshalim,” which stems from the verb “ch.l.sh.” (“weak”), refers to the spiritually “weak” members of the nation, who “straggled behind” with regard to their religious observance.
Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Yalkut Yehuda, notes that this comment of the Sifrei may perhaps shed the command of zekhirat Amalek (remembering Amalek’s attack) in a new light. This obligation demonstrates the extent to which God condemns the persecution of even the “necheshalim,” those who have strayed from the proper path of religious observance. The Torah here loudly proclaims that God cares even for the “necheshalim,” and does not authorize anybody to harm them. Perhaps not coincidentally, Rav Ginsburg notes, this command of zekhirat Amalek appears in the Torah shortly after the law which forbids exceeding the prescribed amount of lashes for sinners. In the rare case when Beit Din is to administer corporal punishment, the official is warned not to add a single lash beyond that which the Torah requires. God cares deeply even for the sinners, for the “necheshalim,” and thus warns against excessively punishing offenders and commands us to always remember and condemn Amalek’s assault, even though it affected only the nation’s spiritual “stragglers.”
One of the unique aspects of the Purim miracle was the Jews’ realization that God was helping them and accompanying them even though they were unworthy of His assistance, let alone His miraculous intervention. The Gemara (Megila 12a) famously comments that the Jews of that time were deserving of annihilation because “they enjoyed the feast of that wicked person.” And yet, even during the very feast in which they participated and rendered themselves worthy of destruction, God was already arranging their miraculous salvation by having Vashti deposed. The Purim miracle occurred in the context where we would have least expected special divine intervention. This was a period of spiritual “weakness,” and the Almighty showed us that even then, He is committed to protecting us and helping us.
This theme might help explain the special emphasis on friendship and camaraderie in the Purim observance. We are obligated to distribute gifts, and we customarily hold large, festive celebrations with family and friends. The message we at trying to convey, perhaps, is that every member of our nation is precious. Behind the “mask” of our flaws and failures is a sacred soul that is capable of greatness. We show our love and affection for our fellow Jews to emphasize the fact that each and every one of us, irrespective of our weaknesses (“necheshalim”), is worthy and deserving of love and affection, as evidenced by the love and affection shown to all of us by the Almighty.
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