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One of the basic requirements of Judaism is the gift of memory. The word zachor is key to many of the basic mitzvoth and values of Judaism. It is the basis of our holy day of Shabat where the commandment in the Ten Commandments begins with the word zachor – “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” The great days of awe and judgment that constitute Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year days, are called in our prayers yom hazikaron, the day of remembrance. The mitzva of tzitzit is dedicated to remembering all of the commandments of the Torah. And this Shabat is parshat zachor when we pledge ourselves not to forget the evil that continually lurks in our world and its inherent danger to human civilized survival. 


Thus we see from these few examples, and there are many more present in the Torah and Jewish life, that memory is the most essential trait for Jewish continuity and success. A people that has no memory has a most difficult and uncertain future as well. We are all witness to the human tragedy that takes place within a family when, God forbid, someone in the family loses one’s sense of memory. There is nothing as crushing as seeing a vibrant and productive human being disappear before one’s very eyes because of the loss of memory. Well, on a national scale the same tragedy is currently true as well. It is hard to recognize Amalek and remember how to deal with that threat when a nation no longer remembers its own self and past.


A great portion of the Jewish world suffers from amnesia, a loss of memory, a form of mental and spiritual dementia. Most of the time, this is a product of self-inflicted forgetfulness. The secular Zionist movement attempted to erase centuries of Jewish memory in its haste to create the “new Jew” and by so succeeding created generations of Jews with no memory and an alienation towards Judaism and its traditions. By ignoring Jewish education and completely assimilating into Western culture, mores and values, the vast majority of Jews in the Diaspora lost any connection with their past and are slowly disappearing from the Jewish scene. The Jewish Left, with its secular messianism and ruthless self-righteousness, purposely destroyed any remnants of its Jewish past in its pursuit of international utopianism. Substituting Marx for Moses and Lenin for Ezra, the Left completely destroyed any hope of Jewish memory for its children and generations.


When Marx and Lenin collapsed in ignominy, the Jewish Left was left (excuse the pun) empty and without any Jewish moorings. By now, most of the Jewish Left has forgotten Marx and Lenin as well and remains completely empty of any memories. It is therefore of little wonder that so many Jews cannot find their way out of the mental maze that afflicts them. They cannot remember how they entered the maze and thus cannot begin to find their way out of that self same maze.


In a general sense, all of the mitzvoth of the Torah are to be seen as memory aids. For memory depends upon tangible experiences, life events and not theoretical ideas or even intellectual accomplishments. The smells of the Jewish kitchen on Friday are what cause the memory of Shabat to be real and unforgettable within us. Sitting in a succah, hearing the sound of the shofar, eating matzo at the Pesach seder are all the stuff that memory is fashioned from. The much-ballyhooed “emptiness” of the secular Jewish wagon is not because of a lack of intellect or thoughts or even values. It is a product of the lack of tangible experiences that can make that intellect and ideas memorable, capable of being passed on from one generation to the next. Memory always needs positive reinforcement to be preserved and treasured.


Only experiences, events, and happenings can provide such a positive reinforcement. We would even forget Amalek – notice how the Holocaust has disappeared from the minds and hearts of so many Jews – if it were not for the fact that every year parshat zachor, with its special Torah reading and synagogue experience, arrives and reinforces our memory. The Torah commands us not to forget Amalek. But it is not only Amalek that is not to be forgotten. It is all of Jewish history, the past story of our families and ancestors, the message of Sinai that is also not to be forgotten. It is memory that guarantees our productive present and future.


 Shabat shalom.

Berel Wein

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