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On Remembering and Its Opposite
Don't you hate it when you forget what you were about to say? It was on the tip of your tongue, and then, as if by some magical spell, the thought is whisked away forever, it seems. Then we engage in that systematic attempt to reconstruct the events, conversation or story we were involved with in order to remember.
Zachor eit asher asah l'kha Amelek begins the Maftir section of the Torah portion this week. We're explicitly told to zachor, remember the crimes of Amelek. In their attack, the Amelekites hit from the rear and sought to kill those least able to defend themselves. Some wonder why these actions earned the Amelekites not just a place in the "enemies" category, but led God to make them a people to be slaughtered without mercy.
One idea is that Amelek acted with hubris. Not only did the Amelekites take on the Israelites, but they attacked God by assaulting those who were least secure. "You shall not imperil the rights of the stranger or the orphan" (Deuteronomy 24:17). To attack those God is most concerned with is, in itself, an attack on God; thus were the Amelekites to be sworn enemies of both God and Israel.
Zachor, we must remember; but can forgetting be sacred, too? "When you reap the field's harvest and forget a sheaf in the field, do not return to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the fatherless and the widow" (Deuteronomy 24:19). Even if we recall the fallen sheaf, we're commanded to leave it. We are instructed to be on God's side by overlooking it, "lo tashov le' khak'to." The Torah tells us that by remembering and forgetting, we bring a blessing.
How do we reconcile remembering and forgetting for the sake of being blessed by God? After looking at these two examples, a common theme emerges. The thread that runs through these contradictory actions is keeping an eye on God's concerns and blessings. God's focus is the weakest members of society. Those who earn God's blessing are the ones who make God's concern their concern. It is easy to nod one's head in agreement; however, living this way is far different.
I often wonder if we're living in a society that would appeal to an Amelekite. Too often the fallen sheaves, or unearned pennies of a business, take priority over other values. In addition, when the poor, widow, homeless and strangers are attacked, whether physically or by economic realities, our society's response is less than godly.
This also plays out in our personal lives. Throughout my rabbinate, I've heard stories of families fighting over money to the point where they no longer speak to one another. They are only brought together, grudgingly, when someone passes away, as if this constitutes a truce, and once the mourning has ended, everyone returns to the "real" conflict.
What is worth remembering, and forgetting? The Torah would tell us that remembering those who need comfort and care is God's primary concern. When we act in accordance with these interests, we act in God's name and don't allow Amelek to win by seeing the weak suffer.
Torah teaches that when we forget about the petty and the insignificant -- not having every single dime by purposefully forgetting the fallen sheaves -- we make God's intention our own.
As we arrive at the most sacred time of the year, I hope that you can use this parshah as your litmus test for teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah. Forget the minor things that keep you from goodness, and remember to aspire to live as a blessing.
Rabbi Jim Egolf is the religious leader of Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne.