The Whys and Wherefores of Zachor
Question #1: Homebound
“As a mother of several small children, it is not easy for
me to go out on Shabbos to hear Parshas Zachor. Am I required to
Question #2: Outreaching in the Afternoon
“At the outreach program that I run, many of our students do
not arrive on Shabbos until the afternoon. Should we have a second Parshas
Zachor reading for them?”
Question #3: Reading without a Brochah
“Why is no birkas haTorah recited on Parshas
Zachor at a women’s reading?”
This Shabbos we read the special maftir that
begins with the words Zachor es asher asah lecha Amalek baderech
be’tzeis’chem miMitzrayim, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the road as
you were leaving Egypt.” According to the Rambam and many others, this
short maftir reading actually includes three different commandments:
(1) A positive mitzvah, mitzvas aseh, to
remember the evil that Amalek did (Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvah
(2) A lo saaseh commandment not to forget what
happened (Sefer Hamitzvos, Negative Mitzvah #59).
(3) The mitzvah to blot out the people of Amalek, mechiyas
Amalek (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 5:5, and Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive
Mitzvah #188; Semag).
The Torah’s repetitive emphasis, remember and do
not forget, teaches that the commandment “remember” means to express,
to state it as a declaration. This is similar to the mitzvah of Kiddush,
Zachor es yom haShabbos lekadsho, which is a requirement to state the
sanctity of Shabbos and not simply to remember Shabbos (Sifra,
beginning of Parshas Bechukosai). In addition, many authorities derive
from the doubled command that the Torah requires us to review this declaration
annually, since after a year one might forget it (see Sefer Hachinuch,
Mitzvah 603). The Sefer Hachinuch explains that since the mitzvah
is to make sure that one does not forget, the Torah requirement is to restate
this reminder every one to three years. The requirement of the mitzvah
is fulfilled both in one’s heart and on one’s lips (Sefer Hachinuch).
(We should note that some authorities [Behag, Rav Saadya]
count all three of the mitzvos mentioned above as one mitzvah in
the count of the 613. Presumably, they consider these additional statements of
the Torah as encouraging us to remember to fulfill the mitzvah of
The Gemara (Megillah 18a) states that the
positive mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did requires reading from a sefer
Torah. For this reason, many authorities conclude that the annual public
reading of Parshas Zachor from a Sefer Torah is required min
haTorah (see Tosafos, Megillah 17b s.v. kol and Ritva ad
loc.; Tosafos, Brachos 13a; Rosh, Brachos 7:20). Some conclude
that the requirement to hear Parshas Zachor is even greater than that of
hearing Megillas Esther, since the mitzvah of reading Megillah
is miderabbanan, whereas Parshas Zachor is required by the Torah
(Terumas Hadeshen #108). For this reason, the Terumas Hadeshen concludes
that those who live in places that have no minyan are required to go to
where there is a minyan for Shabbos Zachor to hear this
reading, a ruling codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 685:7).
Those who disagree
Notwithstanding the long list of recognized early
authorities who rule that an annual reading of Parshas Zachor is
required min haTorah, several later authorities find this position
difficult to sustain, contending that the requirement was introduced by Chazal.
For example, the Minchas Chinuch (#603) states that the requirements for
a minyan and a sefer Torah can be only miderabbanan.
Similarly, Shu’t Toras Chesed (Orach Chayim #37) provides a
lengthy analysis as to why he feels that it is difficult to rule that reading Parshas
Zachor annually is a Torah requirement. Nevertheless, in his final
conclusion, he accepts the decision of the earlier authorities who rule that
the Torah requires that we hear Parshas Zachor every year.
Hearing the parshah
At this point, we should explain the following question: If
we are required to read Parshas Zachor, how do we perform the mitzvah
by listening to the reading, without actually saying the words?
The answer is that there is a halachic principle called shomei’a
ke’oneh, hearing someone recite the appropriate passage fulfills a mitzvah
responsibility the same way reciting it does. Shomei’a ke’oneh explains
how we observe the mitzvah of kiddush when we hear someone else recite
it, and applies in numerous other situations, such as reading Megillas
Esther and blowing shofar.
For shomei’a ke’oneh to work, the individual who is
reciting must have in mind that he is performing the mitzvah on behalf
of those listening, and the listeners must have in mind that they are
fulfilling their duty to perform the mitzvah by listening. It is for
this reason that, in most shullen, prior to the reading of Parshas
Zachor the gabbai, baal keriah or rabbi announces that everyone
should have the intention to fulfill the mitzvah.
Custom of the Gra
The Maaseh Rav (#133) records that the Gra not
only received the aliyah for Parshas Zachor, but used to read the
Torah himself for that aliyah. Presumably, the reason he did this was
because of the general principle of mitzvah bo yoseir mibeshelucho, “it
is a bigger mitzvah to fulfill a commandment by performing the mitzvah
oneself than by relying on someone else to perform it.”
The Sefer Torah was pasul!
What is the halachah if one discovers, after the
reading, that the Sefer Torah used for reading Parshas Zachor is
missing a letter or has some other defect that renders it invalid? Must one
re-read Parshas Zachor?
Allow me to provide some background. Although there are rishonim
who rule that the mitzvah of keri’as haTorah does not require
reading from a kosher Sefer Torah, the halachic conclusion is
that it does. However, if during or after keri’as haTorah one
finds that the sefer Torah was not kosher, one is not required to repeat
what was already read (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 143:4). The
rationale behind this is that since the mitzvah of reading the Torah is miderabbanan,
one can rule that, bedei’evid, after one read the Torah, one fulfilled
Based on the assumption that the mitzvah of Parshas
Zachor is min haTorah, the Pri Megadim suggests that
if the sefer Torah used was found to be invalid, one is required to read
Parshas Zachor a second time, from a different sefer Torah (Pri
Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim 143:1).
Why is no birkas hamitzvah recited for Zachor?
When Parshas Zachor is read as maftir, the person receiving the aliyah
recites birkas haTorah before it is read, as we do with all aliyos
to the Torah. Why is no birkas hamitzvah recited before reading Zachor
es asher asah lecha Amelek,since it is one of the 613 mitzvos?
The authorities answer that we do not recite a brochah
on an act of destruction, even though the world benefits from the removal of
evildoers. This can be compared to one of the reasons cited why we do not
recite the full Hallel on Pesach after the first day or days. “My
creations are drowning, and you are singing praise?” Similarly, it is
inappropriate to bless Hashem for the ability to destroy evil (Kaf Hachayim 685:29,
quoting Yafeh Leleiv).
What exactly is the mitzvah?
Among the rishonim and geonim, we find
differing opinions as to exactly what this mitzvah entails. Some
understand that the mitzvah of remembering Amalek is a requirement to
know the laws involved in destroying Amalek (Raavad and Rash to
Sifra, beginning of Parshas Bechukosai, as explained by the Encyclopedia
Talmudis). According to this approach, the mitzvah of zechiras
Amalek is primarily a mitzvah of learning Torah.
On the other hand, most authorities seem to understand that
the mitzvah is to take to heart the evil that Amalek did and represents,
and that it is our responsibility to combat evil in the world and help make the
world a more G-dly place.
Why specifically Amalek? Because after the Exodus from Egypt
and the splitting of the sea, all the nations were afraid of the Jews, until
the moment that Amalek attacked. Although Amalek was beaten, this attack
decreased the nations’ tremendous awe and fear of the Jews (Rashi).
An afternoon reading
At this point, I would like to address one of the questions
“At the outreach program that I run, many of our students do
not arrive on Shabbos until the afternoon. Should we have a second Parshas
Zachor reading for them?”
This question was posed to Rav Shmuel Vozner, of Bnei Braq,
by someone doing outreach in a small community in Brazil (Shu’t Shevet
Halevi 4:71). The community had a minyan in the morning, but most of
the people did not come. The question was whether they should have a second Parshas
Zachor reading late in the day.
Rav Vozner compares this situation to the following
responsum authored by the Chida.
On Shabbos Parshas Shekalim in a small town,
the local townspeople forgot to read the special maftir on Shabbos
morning, and realized it in the afternoon. The townspeople proposed three
Some suggested that at minchah they read Parshas
Shekalim for the kohen, and for the other two aliyos they
read the regular minchah reading from the next week’s parshah.
Others suggested that they read Parshas Shekalim on
Monday, instead of the weekday reading, since it was still before Rosh
Still others suggested that they read Parshas Shekalim
the next Shabbos, as maftir.
The Chida disputed all three approaches, contending that Parshas
Shekalim may be read only in the morning, and can be read only on the Shabbos
on which it is designated to be read. In his opinion, one who missed reading Parshas
Shekalim at its appropriate time does not fulfill the takanas chachamim
by reading it any other time (Shu’t Yosef Ometz #27).
Rav Vozner contends that, according to the Chida, just as
one cannot read Parshas Shekalim after its designated time, one
cannot read Parshas Zachor after its designated time, and that, therefore,
one cannot read it in the afternoon for those who missed it in the morning.
However, it appears that not all authorities accepted this
ruling of the Chida. The Dagul Meirevavah (Orach Chayim 135)
rules that a community that was unable to have keri’as haTorah on
Shabbos morning, but was able to have it on Shabbos afternoon, should read the
full reading and call up seven people prior to beginning minchah. Then,
after reciting Ashrei and Uva Letzion, they should take out the Sefer
Torah again and read the appropriate minchah reading from the
following week’s parshah. Thus, he holds that one may read the main Shabbos
reading in the afternoon, if necessary, which disagrees with the Chida’s
One could argue, however, that the Dagul Meirevavah
might accept the Chida’s ruling that one cannot read Parshas Shekalim
in the afternoon, but for a different reason: maftir may be read only
immediately following the rest of the week’s reading, and not by itself.
However, there might be a difference between Parshas
Shekalim, whose reading does not fulfill any mitzvah of the Torah,
and Parshas Zachor. Since Parshas Zachor might fulfill a Torah
requirement, there is a responsibility to hear it, even if you were not in shul
Shabbos morning. This is the reason why there is a widespread custom of
having Parshas Zachor readings in the afternoon for those who cannot
attend the reading in the morning.
Women and Parshas Zachor
Now that we understand the basics of the mitzvah, we
can address the first question asked above — whether women are obligated to
hear Parshas Zachor annually. The Chinuch states that women are
excluded from the requirement to remember to destroy Amalek, since they are not
expected to wage war. In his opinion, women have no obligation to hear Parshas
Zachor, although they certainly may hear it and receive reward for doing
so, as one who observes a mitzvah in which s/he is not obligated.
Other authorities dispute the Sefer Hachinuch’s approach.
In Adar 5628 (1868), Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the classic Aruch
Laneir commentary on several mesechtos of the Gemara, was
asked by his son-in-law, Rav Moshe Leib Bamberger, whether women are required
to hear Parshas Zachor. The Aruch Laneir reports that he asked
his rebbe, Rav Avraham Bing, who told him that Rav Nosson Adler (the rebbe
of the Chasam Sofer) ruled that women are required to hear Parshas Zachor,
and he insisted that they all go to hear it. The Aruch Laneir explains
that Parshas Zachor is not a time-bound mitzvah, since one can
read Parshas Zachor whenever one wants, as long as one reads it once a
year. He then quotes the Chinuch’s reason to absolve women from the
obligation, and notes that it should not make any difference if women are the
actual warriors, since they are involved in destroying Amalek – as evidenced by
Esther’s participation (Shu’t Binyan Tziyon 2:8).
Others dispute the basic assumption of the Chinuch,
since, in a milchemes mitzvah, everyone is obligated to contribute to
the war effort, even a newlywed bride (Sotah 44b). Evidence of this is
drawn from Yael, who eliminated Sisra, and Devorah, who led that war effort (Minchas
Chinuch). On the other hand, others find creative reasons to explain and
justify the Sefer Hachinuch’s position. (The intrepid reader is referred
to the responsum on the subject penned by Rav Avraham of Sochatchov [Shu’t
Avnei Nezer, Orach Chayim #509].)
The Kaf Hachayim (685:30) presents a compromise position,
ruling that women are obligated in the mitzvah to remember the events of
Amalek, but are not obligated to hear Parshas Zachor, since this is a
time-bound mitzvah. (See also the Toras Chesed, who reaches a
similar conclusion, but based on a different reason. More sources on this topic
are cited by Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 1:84.)
With or without a brochah?
It has become fairly common today to have special women’s
readings of Parshas Zachor later in the day, for the benefit of those
who must take care of their children in the morning, during regular shul
davening. The universal practice is not to recite a brochah of any
type before these readings. There are three reasons why one should not recite a
brochah on the afternoon reading:
(1) We do not recite a brochah on the mitzvah
(2) It is not certain that women are obligated to hear this
(3) It is not clear that one may recite maftir when
it does not immediately follow the reading of the Torah.
Despite what we have just written, some authorities contend
that whenever one reads from a sefer Torah in public, one is required to
recite a brochah, because of the Torah-ordained mitzvah of birkas
haTorah. In their opinion, this is true even when the reading itself is
not required, and even when one has already recited birkas haTorah
in the morning (Be’er Sheva and Shu’t Mishkenos Yaakov, both
quoted by the Toras Refael #2). Although the Toras Refael
concludes that most rishonim dispute that reciting birkas haTorah
under these circumstances is a Torah requirement, he nevertheless understands
that the Shulchan Aruch rules that birkas haTorah is required miderabbanan,
whenever the Torah is read in public.
Based on this opinion of the Toras Refael, some
contemporary authorities feel that one should avoid entirely the practice of
additional Shabbos Zachor readings, since the special reading
creates a safek brochah, a question as towhether one should
recite a brochah on the reading (seen in print in the name of Rav Elyashiv).
Nevertheless, the accepted practice is to have these special readings to enable women to fulfill the mitzvah.
On the other hand, the Minchas Yitzchak was
asked whether one makes a brochah for an auxiliary Parshas Zachor
reading (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 9:68). He quotes those who contend that
every public reading of the Torah requires a brochah, and then notes
many authorities who did not share this opinion. The Minchas Yitzchak then
specifically mentions the practice of those who read all of Sefer Devarim in
shul on the night of Hoshanah Rabbah without reciting a brochah,
noting that this was the practice of the Divrei Chayim of Sanz. He also
quotes several other authorities who advocate reading the parshah of the
day’s nasi after davening each day of the first twelve days of
Nissan, also a custom performed without first reciting a brochah.
Thus, we have several precedents and authorities who ruled
that one may have a public reading of the Torah without reciting a brochah,
and there is, therefore, no need to change the established practice of reading Parshas
Zachor and not reciting a brochah beforehand. We should also note
that when the Magen Avraham (139:5) quotes the opinion of the Be’er
Sheva, he opines that once one has recited birkos haTorah in
the morning, he exempts himself from any requirement to recite further brochos
on reading Torah that day, unless there is a specific institution of Chazal
to recite them.
Reading on Purim
Some authorities contend that a woman may fulfill her
responsibility to hear the mitzvah of mechiyas Amalek by hearing the
Torah reading on Purim that begins with the words Vayavo Amalek (Magen
Avraham 685). Since many later poskim dispute this, I refer you to
your halachic authority regarding this question.
The Semak (Mitzvah #23) explains that the
reason for the mitzvah not to forget what Amalek did is so that we
always remember that Hashem saved us from Amalek’s hands. Constant perpetuation
of this remembrance will keep us in awe of Hashem, and this will prevent
us from acting against His wishes.