The Torah commands us to remember (“zachor”) that the Amalekites attacked the Jewish people shortly after their departure from Egypt. This is a mitzvah that must be performed verbally,1 and, according to many authorities, it must be read from a text.2 There is also a view that a minyan is required when reading the Zachor portion in order to properly fulfill the mitzvah.3 Nowadays, we fulfill this mitzvah by listening to a special Torah reading about the attack of Amalek on the Shabbat before Purim, known as “Shabbat Zachor.” The reading of parshat Zachor might just be the only Torah reading that is required by the Torah itself. All other Torah readings, including Shabbat and Yom Tov, are essentially rabbinical enactments.4
Mysteriously absent from the mitzvah to remember Amalek is the frequency that the mitzvah must be performed. Although universal custom is to perform it annually on the Shabbat before Purim, it may only truly be required every three years.5 It is explained that today’s practice of performing it once a year is based on the teaching that a person forgets things after a year.6
There is much discussion on how the word “zecher” in the reading is to be pronounced. As such, it is customary to read that verse twice, first as “zecher” and then as “zeicher.” In some congregations, only the actual word is repeated, not the entire verse.7 One should make an effort to hear the reading in one’s dialect of Hebrew. For example, Yemenites should hear it read in the Yemenite pronunciation of Hebrew, and Ashkenazim should hear it read in the Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew. Nevertheless, one who heard it in a dialect different than one’s own has still fulfilled the mitzvah.8
According to some authorities, women are exempt from this mitzvah. This is because a component of the mitzvah of remembering Amalek is also to wage war against them, and to destroy them. Since women are exempt from military duty and are essentially ineligible to participate in Amalek’s physical destruction, they are also exempt from the mitzvah to remember their ambush.9 According to most other authorities, women are obligated to hear the Zachor reading just like men, and therefore, they should attend synagogue on Shabbat Zachor in order to hear the reading.10
Interestingly, a blessing is not recited on the mitzvah of remembering Amalek as is done before performing most other mitzvot. This is because the mitzvah to remember Amalek is essentially a component of the mitzvah to destroy Amalek. No blessing is recited on a mitzvah that requires destruction, even of an evil enemy nation.11 Indeed, even though we look forward to the destruction and eradication of all the enemies of the Jewish people, it is not something that we should be especially excited to have to fulfill. G-d is not happy at the death of anyone – even the most wicked.12 Another reason a blessing is not recited is because it is a mitzvah that cannot be performed in its entirety nowadays – we can only “remember” Amalek – we are unable to destroy them, as there is no nation today that can be positively identified as Amalek.13 It is also explained that a blessing is not recited on the mitzvah of remembering Amalek because although we only read parshat Zachor once a year, the mitzvah to remember Amalek is actually a constant mitzvah that applies every day. As such, it is a mitzvah without a specific time frame or frequency and, therefore, a blessing is not recited.14
One who is unable to hear parshat Zachor from a Torah scroll should at least read it out loud from a Chumash.15 Furthermore, one who missed the reading of parshat Zachor can still fulfill the mitzvah of remembering Amalek by listening attentively to the Torah reading on Purim morning, which deals with the same theme.16 In deference to the view that requires the mitzvah of remembering Amalek to be performed every twelve months, in a year in which there are thirteen months, one should have in mind to fulfill the mitzvah of remembering Amalek during the reading of the Torah portion of Ki Teitzei, which includes a mention of Amalek.17
- Megilla 18a.
- Megilla 18a; Tosfot, Megilla 17b.
- Rosh, Berachot 7:20.
- Bach, OC 685; Magen Avraham 685. While there is a view that the reading of “Parah” is also a Biblical requirement, the halacha is not in accordance with this view. Mishna Berura 685:15; Aruch HaShulchan, OC 685:7.
- Chinuch 603.
- Chatam Sofer, EH 119.
- Mishna Berura 685:18.
- See Mo’adim U’zmanim 2:170; Mikraei Kodesh 2; Igrot Moshe, OC 3:5.
- Chinuch 603.
- Minchat Chinuch 603; Rivevot V’yovlot 4:42; Binyan Tzion 8.
- Kaf Hachaim, OC 685:29.
- Maharam Schik, OC 336.
- See Chaim Sha’al 91; Ritva, Yoma 38a; Mishna, Yadayim 4:4; Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 5:4; Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Biah 12:25; Smag 227.
- Mishne Halachot 7:81.
- Nitei Gavriel, Purim 19:12.
- Magen Avraham 685:1.
- Maharam Schik on Taryag Mitzvot; Nitei Gavriel 19:13.