This Might Not Make You Happy
Hey. Listen. I had kind of a shitty week.
I didn’t get enough sleep. I attached myself to a lost cause again—and lost. Phone calls were not returned. A package never arrived. Plans I was looking forward to got cancelled.
Even this didn’t help:
My grandmother wasn’t worried if I was in a sulky mood about something…If I complained, ‘but I’m not haappy,’ she would tell me, ‘Where is it written that you’re supposed to be happy all the time?'” —Sylvia Boorstein (Shambhala Sun Interview)
This week we read Ki Teitzei (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 21:10 – 25:19).
It didn’t help my mood.
Here’s a rundown of some of topics covered:
- Captured women mourning their parents
- Hated wives
- Lost property
- Recalcitrant children (being put to death)
- How to treat the corpses of the executed
- Rejected wives
- Slander against rejected wives
- Excluding the maimed from the community
- Excluding those born outside of marriage from the community
- Excluding certain ethnic groups from the community
I am completely failing to acknowledge the fact that many of these topics are described in terms of how to show compassion as these horrible things come up.
It turns out, though, that Ki Teitzei actually addresses my shitty week.
At the very end.
The last verse, actually the last part of the last verse, says this: תִּמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם; לֹא, תִּשְׁכָּח Timchah et zeicher Amalek mitachat hashamayim. Lo Tiskach. “Blot out the name of Amelak from under heaven. Do not forget.” (25:19)
Amalek attacked the Israelites as they were making their way out of Egypt, when they were hungry and tired, and he attacked the most vulnerable among them. The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, literally: “The Narrow Place.” Its root is also used for the word for “despair.” Amalek attacked when the Israelites were physically vulnerable. That’s bad enough. He also attacked when they were moving out of despair, which is a whole other kind of vulnerable.
He attacked when they had the potential to move into hope.
Destroying hope is the kind of violence that makes me shudder.
We are charged with blotting out Amalek’s name from under heaven (Actually, we’re charged with blotting out his memory, but I’m taking a small liberty with the text–shitty week). And we are charged not to forget.
That doesn’t help my mood.
Then I think about Elul. And I remember that I love Elul. And I remember that this is not supposed to be an easy month.
We are supposed to do both.
We need to remember. We need to remember the fear, the destruction of hope, the abject misery.
We need to remember that this journey, this being human, this spiritual path, is not always happy-clappy. Sometimes it sucks. It’s not written anywhere that we should be happy all the time.
And, guess what?
That’s spiritual too. So we remember.
But we also blot out Amalek’s name (I have mentioned it 5 times so far, by the way.) We should blot out his name because we need to remember not to do what he did. We should never take on that name. That description.
We need to remember what it was like.