Shabbat Zachor: Linking the Generations
The Mishna in Pirkeh Abot (4:12) teaches that a teacher must respect his student as much as he respects himself: “Yehi Kevod Talmidecha Habib Alecha Ke’shelecha.” Mutual respect is critically important for the success of the teacher-student relationship, in order to ensure the successful transmission of Torah knowledge.
The Sages derived this principle from the story of the war Beneh Yisrael waged against Amalek, which we commemorate on Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat preceding Purim. After Amalek attacked Beneh Yisrael, Moshe instructed his disciple, Yehoshua, “Behar Lanu Anashim” – “Choose for us” people to fight against Amalek (Shemot 17:9). The word “Lanu” (“for us”) in this verse suggests an equation of sorts between Moshe and Yehoshua. Moshe spoke to his student as his equal, showing him great respect and affection. And thus the Sages inferred from these words that a teacher must show respect to his student.
Why was it specifically at that time, when Amalek attacked Beneh Yisrael, that Moshe found it necessary to strengthen his bond with his student, to show special respect to Yehoshua?
Rav Yitzchak Hutner (1906-1980) explains that the Torah describes our nation’s struggle against Amalek as being fought “Mi’dor Dor” – in every generation (Shemot 17:16). On the simple level of interpretation, this refers to the eternity of Amalek’s threat, that in every generation we must defend ourselves from the various manifestations of Amalek. On a deeper level, however, Rav Hutner explains “Mi’dor Dor” as referring to the nature of Amalek’s threat. Amalek tries to disrupt the process of “Mi’dor Dor,” the transmission of our tradition from one generation to the next. The threat posed by Amalek is the threat of generation gaps – the barriers between parents and children, and between teachers and students, that prevent our tradition from being relayed and thereby threaten to spell the end of our faith. The way we combat Amalek is by strengthening the relationship between the generations, by ensuring that we maintain close bonds between parents and children, and between teachers and students.
This explains why, as our Sages teach, Haman – who descended from the nation of Amalek – harbored special hatred and contempt for the Jewish children. For example, the Midrash (Ester Rabba 9:4) tells that after Haman prepared the tree on which to hang Mordechai, he went to find Mordechai and saw him teaching thousands of Jewish children. Haman then announced that he would kill all those children before killing their Rabbi. Why did Haman so fiercely despise the Jewish children? The answer, Rav Hutner explains, is that Haman, a scion of Amalek, sought to interfere with the process of transmission, the passing down of our Torah tradition from one generation to the next, and thus he reserved his fiercest hatred for the young children studying Torah.
Our ongoing battle against the spiritual forces of Amalek continues to this very day, and is more difficult now than ever before. Our attempts to inculcate Torah values and Torah knowledge within our children faces the unprecedented challenge of technology, which lures our children away from our value system. The Megilla tells that Ahashverosh invited even the children of Shushan to his feast (“Le’mi’gadol Ve’ad katan” – 1:5), which threatened to lure the Jewish children away from their tradition. In our day and age, our children are exposed to these “feasts” each and every day, on an ongoing basis, due to technology. And so we are presented with the great challenge of “Behar Lanu Anashim,” to do what we can to strengthen the bonds of love between us and our children, to work to create meaningful relationships with them so we can successfully transmit to them our eternal tradition and triumph in our continued struggle against Amalek.