D’var Torah: Choosing to Remember and to Forget

This past weekend I was at camp with about 125 Tzad Bet chanichim (campers) and we listened to Parshat Zachor. Zachor is the maftir portion that all Jews are commanded to hear each year on the Shabbat prior to Purim. Zachor refers to the commandment to remember what Amalek did to the Israelites as they were crossing the desert, when they attacked our weak and tired from behind. The portion specifically notes that Amalek did not fear God. The parsha instructs us to both obliterate their name and remember what they did to us (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).

When talking to the Tzad Bet chanichim, I noted that it is peculiar that we are commanded to both remember and forget what they did. How is that possible? I think the parsha is teaching us how to choose what we remember and what we forget from this story.

We should remember that there are bad people in the world who prey on others, especially the weak and vulnerable. We should remember that it is our duty to stand up for these people and to help them. Why people behave the way they do is complicated, but a good starting point is that it is appropriate to have a healthy fear of God. People who fear God aren’t necessarily afraid of direct divine intervention in their daily lives but they do understand their place in the world. People who fear God understand that there is something larger than themselves and they have responsibility for one another. Those who don’t fear God care only about their immediate needs and are willing to do anything, including mistreat others, to get what they want.

What should we forget? As much as we need to remember how to combat evil in this world and to stand up for others, we cannot let the actions of bad people embitter us. Sometimes the problems in the world can cause us despair and perhaps to give up. We need to let go of the individual hurts, slights and pain others cause so that we can continue to function and do good in the world. Being able to forget, or let go, is a key skill to be resilient and move on.

The Zachor reading also mentions that we should read this portion when we are in our land and settled – when times are good. Our Ramah community is generally very blessed. Sometimes when we are experiencing good times it is easier to become complacent to what is happening outside our very small circle. Parshat Zachor is a good reminder that we have a broader mission in life.

Categories: Director, Dvar Torah