April 24, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 24, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Forgetting to Remember

Parshat Tetzaveh, Shabbat Zachor

“Zachor—remember!” The charge commanded to us by Hashem to remember is not one limited to this Shabbat Zachor. The command to remember is found a number of times in the Torah, for remembering a common past is what helps keep the family bond strong. And a collective memory of a shared past is even more essential for a nation to remain united as one.

Hence, the importance of Shabbat Zachor!

But, lest we mistakenly believe that our charge is to recall only the attack of Amalek, or the plot of Haman or the evil designs of our enemies throughout the ages, I remind you that the Torah also charges us to remember the exodus from Egypt, the Sinaitic revelation and the observance of Shabbat. Likewise, we are told we must remain cognizant of the mitzvot and keep them, to remember our desert experience and that we were once slaves … and many more. The reason for all these reminders is simple. Hashem knows well that a nation that forgets its past—forfeits its future—a truth that brings us to our haftarah and the sin of Shaul HaMelech.

In the past, we have spoken of the possible reasons for God’s harsh punishment meted out to Saul. I would like to suggest another approach that might help us understand its severity and, with that, leave us a message as well.

With the ascension of Shaul to the throne, the period of “Judges,” “Shofetim,” comes to an end. It was not a very positive time in our history. The 300 plus years during which local chieftains led our nation was an era of divisiveness, disunity and a loss of national purpose. How well does Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch depict those years as “a time of constant change from faithfulness to defection and from defection to faithfulness … (It) always forgot—again and again—its particularity, the specialty of its mission and of its destiny; it forgot that it was solely God, Whom they had to thank for its freedom and its possession of the land … ” The text in sefer Shoftim describes the situation succinctly and accurately: “And Israel did what was evil in God’s eyes and they forgot Hashem … (3:7)

The era of the Shofetim was the time of forgetfulness and King Shaul was to usher in a new era—one of remembering. Yet, when he faced his most challenging moment, the moment when he was charged to fulfill, “zachor!”… he forgot! Just as the generations before, he too forgot; he forgot his mission, he forgot his destiny, he forgot why he was appointed King. And it was this, I submit, that kindled God’s anger. Moshe Rabbeinu ends his final words to the nation with the song of “Haazinu,” in which he charges the people, “Zachor yemot olam—Remember the days of yore … ” (Devarim 32:7), for he understood that there could be no future for a nation that forgets its past.

In 1943, a well-known Israeli poet wrote a short story, whose main character declared:

“… I am opposed to Jewish history … What is there in it? Oppression, defamation, persecution, martyrdom. I would simply forbid teaching our children Jewish history!” Powerful words—and certainly understandable in 1943 … but wrong. Our charge today is to teach our children, “zachor!”—our history did not begin in 1967, or in 1948 or with Herzl or with the Rambam. Our history began with, “Bereishit bara Elokim … ”

Clearly, it is only by understanding that past that we can understand our present…..and together, build our future. And, therefore, remember not to forget! Zachor!


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles