Only once in the Bible does God command us to remember one of our enemies. His name was Amalek. In Deuteronomy 25:17-19 we read:
“Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it.”
Amalek attacked the weak ones at the rear of the march. By choosing to attack the elderly and the young, the vulnerable and slow in the rear of the great Exodus, he guaranteed that he would be able to kill the maximum number of people with the least risk to his soldiers.
After the attack by Amalek in the Bible, God commands Moses, “Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven … the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:14,16).
The enemy we must never forget is also the enemy of God in every generation. Amalek is more than a man; he is a symbol, a symbol of terrorism, or radical evil in every generation where the Messiah has still not come or come again. Amalek was the first terrorist and on Monday, Amalek visited Boston.
As I sat transfixed, sorrowful and angry before the television screen bringing me no news but revelatory images, one image caught my eye, as I’m sure it did yours. It was the picture of the first moments after the first explosion and it showed an older runner going wobbly kneed and collapsing in the street. In a brief report in the New Republic, Marc Tracy wrote of him:
“… the runner in what is quickly becoming the iconic photo, who is being aided by police after being knocked to the ground by the explosion, looks to be older. He is somebody who likely took around five hours to complete the race. He is a civilian not only in the political sense, but in the athletic sense. In other words, it seems likely that whoever was responsible for the explosions – assuming somebody was responsible – was deliberately targeting ordinary decent folk rather than the superstars. And, whatever message they were intended to convey, the explosions created the impression that being ordinary is no protection against extraordinary horror. That feeling is the definition of being terrorized.”
I think I know the message the killer or killers were intending to convey: Amalek is not dead. I also know the message we must send back to Amalek: We will not forget you! Our deceptively calm and terror-free existence since 9/11 has not seduced us into forgetting you.
Our memory of your tactics in seeking out the old runners will not terrorize us into stopping the race and hiding in our houses. Our public places and our public celebrations will not end because of what happened in Boston. Our war against domestic or international terrorism will not end, and more than all that, God’s war against all who target the slower, the weaker, the poorer, the most vulnerable, will also never end.
An old rabbinic legend teaches that the reason God led the people in the Exodus with “a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night” was not to show the people the right direction, but rather to show them the right speed. The march out of the house of bondage was to proceed only at the speed of the slowest person in the march. That way, the strong did not get too far ahead of the weak. That way, the strong did not lose touch with the weak.
The war against Amalek is a slow war, but it is a war we’re not fighting alone. We are together, and we are being led through falling and blood, through dust and despair to freedom.