Don’t Forget the Vinegar - כי תצא

Friday, 25 August, 2023 - 7:24 am

Don’t Forget the Vinegar 

The commandment to remember Amalek, “remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt,” (Deuteronomy 24:17), is one of the six events in Jewish history that we are commanded to remember every day. What is the benefit of constantly reminding ourselves of Amalek? Would it not be more beneficial to ignore the negativity that Amalek represents and focus on living a healthy, positive life? Indeed, this is the meaning of the Midrash which records the Jewish people’s response to this commandment: 

Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt — The Jewish people said: Moshe, our teacher! One verse says, Remember what Amalek did to you, and another verse says, Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it. How can both be fulfilled? This one says remember, and that one says remember!...

The memory of Shabbat is one of the most important principles of Judaism. Shabbat reminds us of the creator who created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day; it reminds us that the world was created for a purpose, and we dedicate the Shabbat day to fostering and developing our spiritual life. The memory of Amalek, by contrast, seems to be the antithesis of the memory of Shabbat, it reminds us of the human ability to defy G-d, to undermine morality and to prey on the weak. Why then would the Torah tell us to constantly be mindful not only of the Shabbat but also of Amalek? 

The Medrash records Moses’ response: 

Moshe replied to them: “A cup of spiced wine cannot be compared to a cup of vinegar {even though} this is a cup and that is a cup. This is a remembrance to guard and sanctify the Shabbos day, and the other is a remembrance of a punishment.” (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer ch. 44)

While it seems that the Midrash presents spiced wine (Shabbat) and vinegar (Amalek) as two matters which cannot be compared to one another, the reality is that the origin of vinegar is wine. The deeper meaning of the Midrash is that, like every reality in this world, including Amalek, originates from G-d. Amalek too can be transformed to serve a positive purpose. While vinegar cannot be consumed alone, when added to a dish it can improve and enhance the taste of the food. The negative energy and passion of Amalek can be transformed to positive passion that will bring us closer to G-d. The negative experience itself can become fuel that generates intense longing and closeness to G-d. 

Both Shabbat, the holy experiences in our life, and Amalek, the negative aspects of our personality, can both serve as “cups” that enable us to “receive” and experience the flow of holiness. The difference is that Shabbat is inherently a “cup of spiced wine”, whereas Amalek must be transformed before it can enhance our spiritual lives.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutei Sichos 19 Ki Teitze 4

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