Remember and don’t forget

Remember and don’t forget

Rabbi Michael Werbow
Rabbi Michael Werbow

Tetzaveh, Exodus 27:20-30:10

Just a few weeks ago, we read Parashat Yitro in which we retell the experience of standing at Mt. Sinai and hearing the voice of God deliver Torah to the people Israel.

Within the mitzvot given in that parasha we are told, “Zachor et Yom HaShabbat l’Kad’sho,” (Remember the Shabbat and keep it holy).  Later in the Torah, when the Ten Commandments are retold by Moses to the next generation, Moses states, “Shamor et Yom HaShabbat l’Kad’sho,” (Observe the Shabbat and keep it holy).

A midrash tells of the people expressing surprise that Moses has altered the words that God used when originally giving the commandment. Moses replies with the familiar line from Lecha Dodi, which says, “Shamor v’Zachor b’Dibbur Echad,”  (Observing and remembering are contained in the same word).  This week’s special reading of Parashat Zachor can lead us to the same conclusion.

The tradition is to read a special section from the Torah on the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim. This section tells of the commandment to remember what Amalek did to the children of Israel as they wandered in the desert. It is interesting however the bracketing of this exhortation. The section begins with the word Zachor (remember), and concludes with the words, lo tishkach (don’t forget).

Why are we told not to forget if we have already been told to remember?  One could also ask the question the other way around.  Why are we told to remember if we are also going to be told, don’t forget?

One could respond as Moses does to the people.  We could decide that remembering and “not forgetting” are one in the same and not be concerned about the duplication.  However, we could see it differently.

One of my rabbis, Reb Mimi Feigelson, speaks of “remembering” as our inheritance and “not forgetting” as our legacy.  She introduces the idea of “remembering” as an active connection we make to our past. She teaches that “zachor” (remember) is the legacy that we are born into — where we come from — telling us that we are born with memories, we are born with a story, a history; A story of our family, a different story of our people, and yet another story of the world that we were born into.”

On the other hand, “lo tishkant” (don’t forget) refers to the legacy we will leave for future generations.  To illustrate the meaning of “don’t forget,” Reb Mimi poses the following questions: “What is it that we create with the inheritance instilled in us? How do we actualize the gifts that were bestowed? What life choices do we make to uncover all the gifts that we are?”

So, zachor  — remember — that you are a part of a long chain of tradition that has come before you. Remember that your heritage has held great meaning for your ancestors.  Remember that you are who you are because of others who chose to hold tight to the Torah as an eitz chayim, a tree of life.  

At the same time, lo tishkach — don’t forget — to carry on the traditions and don’t forget to engage the next generation so they receive the baton you are passing them.  Don’t forget to learn a new piece of Torah and incorporate it into your life.  Don’t forget to create a legacy through the choices you make.

Zachor v’lo tishkach  – remember and don’t forget.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)