By Guest Blogger Jason Lieberman, Former Director of Government and Community Affairs for Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities, Manhattan-based disabilities advocate and inspirational speaker
Although traditionally commemorated the Shabbat before Purim, Amalek attacked between Passover and Shavuot. Their attack differs in two ways from other attacks during the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness. First, Amalek attacked, not in defense of its territory but “on the way,” meaning that they attacked not for defensive reasons, but rather out of hatred. Second, Amalek attacked those who fell behind, those who would today be classified as having disabilities. As it says, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you left Egypt, how he happened upon you on the way and struck all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary, and he did not fear God.”
Because of these differences, God commands, “… you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget!” How can we fulfill this commandment, when no one identifies as an Amalekite? Killing Amalek’s descendents, the traditional understanding of this commandment, is impossible. I suggest the answer lies in understanding and preventing the duplication of Amalek’s methodology. Without any known descendents, “the remembrance of Amalek” lives on only through such imitation.
What methodology? If the Ananei HaKavod, “the Clouds of Glory,” protected the Israelites from our enemies, then Amalak’s success derived from his methodology. Excluded, left behind and unprotected, “the stragglers” created a communal vulnerability, exploited by this first anti-Semite. A recurring pattern emerged. Throughout history, the persecution of people with disabilities, without societal retribution, has reinforced that people could safely consider others sub-human, and this culturally supports anti-Semitism. This behavior was particularly prevalent during the Middle Ages and Inquisition, times of severe anti-Semitism, and continued by the Nazis’ development of a “final solution” for people with disabilities two years before the” final solution” for the Jews. Where exclusion and indifference encourage Amalakite behavior, only through inclusion and ultimately integration can the Jewish community help people with disabilities become less vulnerable even as we strengthen ourselves, decrease anti-Semitism and fulfill the commandment to “…obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens.”
— Jason Lieberman