Shabbat Zachor 2017-Doubt that Freezes and Doubt that Frees

This year, sadly, there is no shortage of thoughts that come to mind when I think of Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat where we remember our enemy, Amalek.  In a world of increasing hate crimes and finger pointing, the importance of calling out evil is very much alive..  

Yet, for some reason, it is a gematria related to the word Amalek that has me thinking most.  The numerical of the word עמלק which is 240, is the same numerical value as the word ספק, the word for doubt.  It is doubt that we must obliterate this Shabbat.  

R. Steinsaltz, writes in his book   Change and Renewal, that just like the physical enemy of Amalek that threatened the existence of our people, doubt threatens us individually in a different way.  “Amalek seeks to encourage and perpetuate doubt and thus attempts to halt any effort to deal with doubt and resolve it.”  In this way, the evil is the existence of “permanent skepticism.” (pp. 200-201)   Getting rid of doubt and putting it aside is critical to our productivity.

When the Metzudat David commentary on Mishle, said  that there is no joy in the world better than clarifying and eradicating doubt,   אין בעולם שמחה כהתרת הספקות , he was commenting on the verse from Proverbs 15:30 that discusses the importance of clarity of מאור עינים. 

Certainly doubt prevents our ability to move forward.   If I constantly doubt my religious conclusions, my political commitments or my personal life decisions, I may never move ahead and achieve clarity and joy.  Living with constant doubt can shackle and paralyze us. 

Yet, there is something about casting doubt off to the side that does not sit right.  It seems that we need doubt and that it is a natural and critical element to a life of growth and contemplation.  Rabbi Norman Lamm agrees.  In his famous article entitled, “Faith and Doubt,” he points out the need for doubt in our religious lives.  “Faith and doubt are not in essential contradiction to each other… The truth which cognitive faith affirms is not given to us for the process of mere assent; it is the prize for which we must engage in a fierce intellectual struggle.  Doubt, so conceived, becomes not an impediment, but a goad to reinvestigate and deepen faith.  Out of the agony of a faith which must constantly wrestle with doubt may emerge a faith of far greater vision, scope and attainment.” (Rabbi Norman Lamm, Faith and Doubt, p.16)  

Religious faith becomes stronger, when doubt lives.  I would also argue that in this political climate, it is important, even as we stand strong, that we let doubt enter our consciousness.  We should listen to points of view other than our own, as they can help us to reexamine our assumptions and emerge stronger, more nuanced, more empathic and more clear.  Sometimes living with doubt can sharpen us and enhance the quality of our action.  

This weekend, as we prepare for Purim, let us all work to eradicate the doubt that leads to destruction, doubt that makes our souls and minds freeze.

But, at the same time, let’s remember, that in just four weeks, we will sit around the Seder table, asking questions, planting seeds of constructive doubt, doubt that pushes to clarify,embracing not a doubt that freezes us, but a doubt that actually frees us.  


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