Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin: Are We Witnessing the Triumph of Evil?

I ask my seventh grade students: “Are there evil people?”

“No,” they say. “There are people who do evil things, but they are not necessarily evil people.”

“OK,” I ask. “Are there good people?”

“Oh, yes!” they say. Then, they proceed to name as many as they could.

Get it? Here is the problem. Our young people — and a large chunk of our larger culture, believe that there are good people.

But, when it comes to naming evil people, they are far more reticent. They unwittingly quote John Martyn, who sang: “I don’t wanna know about evil. I only want to know about love.”

Perhaps it is because right-wingers and conservatives have all but hijacked that moral category.

As in: when President George W. Bush referred to “evil doers,” and President Trump’s insistence on calling out the “very bad hombres” who are amassed on our southern border.

But, this is what we know. There are evil people in the world. Evil is a reality in this world. What happened in the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand is as real a manifestation of evil as you can find.

Which brings me to this week’s holiday, Purim — and a particular custom that we associate with it.

Some of you might know that my geeky hobby is collecting fountain pens.

Whenever I prepare to purchase a pen, I need to see how well it writes.

Several years ago, I found myself in a pen store on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv.

I was trying out a pen. I took the pen, wrote the word Amalek on it, and then scribbled it out.

The man behind the counter saw what I was doing, and his eyes grew moist.

“I haven’t seen anyone do that, since I was a small child in Poland. My grandfather was a sofer [a scribe for Torah scrolls, mezuzot, tefilin, and other sacred texts]. That is how he would try out his quill before writing.”

I do not know where I learned that custom, but it is apparently a venerable. No less a personage than the Canadian Jewish novelist, Mordecai Richler, has the same memory — of his grandfather likewise blotting out the name of Amalek.

For that is the custom on Purim — to blot out the name of Haman, the descendant of Amalek, the genocidal desert raider, the archetypal murderous anti-Semite: “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey after you left Egypt-how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear…. You shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

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Source: Religion News Service