A paradoxical instruction: forgetting and remembering

Posted on 20 February 2014 by admin

By Harriet P. Gross

grossforwebIt’s funny about connections.

Case in point: I was waiting in a doctor’s examining room where a soundless film of animals on an African plain was running on a flat-screen TV. Two lions, relaxing together in a clump of grass; a mama giraffe, bending her long neck down to nuzzle her baby; a cheetah, watching a herd of zebra moving slowly past. No violence here, unless that cheetah intended to get up and go after the oldest or the youngest, the stragglers at the end of the zebra pack.

This got me to thinking about the recent flap over the possible shooting of a rare African black rhino. The hunting club that auctioned off this “prize” opportunity realized $350,000 through its offer. Some man wanted to kill that animal enough to pay a staggering sum of money for the privilege. Maybe the winner wants the rhino’s head for a trophy; maybe he’s happy just basking in bragging rights.

But of course there was backlash, so the hunting club made a big gesture. It didn’t rescind the auction or the killing that would result; its defense was that the rhino singled out for this big event was too old to breed, so he’d make an OK, even ideal, “sacrifice.” And a portion of the money paid by the killer-to-be would go toward preservation of other endangered species in the marked-for-death rhino’s home territory.

This also got me to thinking: Haven’t we read about something similar in the Torah? After the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea, out snuck the lurking Amalek to kill the old and the weak bringing up the end of the Exodus line. He wasn’t after trophies or bragging rights, or getting rid of the “non-productive” members of that long, long line; he wanted to slaughter our people, so he started by attacking the most defenseless of them. And this made me wonder once again about the contradictory instructions God has given us: Remember Amalek, but also blot out the name of Amalek for all our generations.

How can we remember and forget at the same time?

We’re told that Haman was a descendent of Amalek, and soon we’ll be blotting out his name again at Purim, as we do every year. But don’t our shouts and noisemakers constitute remembering rather than forgetting?

We’re told that Hitler, too, is a descendent of Amalek — in spirit if not by actual birth. He and his Nazis were blotted out with the defeat of their Third Reich, but we still remember them. I guess we must. Hitler, Haman and Amalek all belong to our history.

If that poor old rhino’s life is actually blotted out, will he be forgotten? Or will he always be remembered?

In the long-gone age of black and white TV, there was a “Twilight Zone” episode about a greedy hunter whose den walls displayed the mounted heads of the many exotic animals he had killed. But in the last moments of the program, one den wall sported a new trophy: the mounted head of the hunter himself. I can never forget that image. It comes back to me every year at Purim, on Yom HaShoah and when I see today’s color clips of the world’s few remaining black rhinos.

I have long believed the idea of remembering and forgetting at the same time to be impossible. But, is it possible that what God has told us is to remember not to forget Amalek? To forever remember not to forget all those who hunt and kill creatures weaker than themselves?

Making connections is what I like best. Here, I’m connecting the dots of Amalek, Haman, Hitler and a modern-day hunting club, and further connecting them to the possibility that blotting out is actually a way to remember. A poor old rhinoceros has taught me this. When the hunter shoots, the animal will be blotted out, but I will never forget him.

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