Published by The Freeman Center
The Maccabean Online
Political Analysis and Commentary
Judaism and Memory in a World of Forgetting
by Eugene Narrett, Ph.D.
In his great novel, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Czech writer Milan Kundera meditates on the problem of modern times via a memorable metaphoric question: "can a nation cross a desert of organized forgetting" and survive? No, it cannot.
Those with some Scripture know that the metaphor is borrowed from the history of the Jewish people and the holy days of Pesach that celebrate their liberation. In the unified way of life that is Judaism, liberation and remembering are inseparable. The problem of the West is that it is in flight from its past, the Jewish root it appropriated only to despise, and thus lusts for the future, for the green light at the end of the dock, for the fantasy image, the digitalized virtual ‘reality’ not the living presence of life simple and abundant. "But the future is empty, a void" Kundera notes correctly. It does not, cannot, will not exist without a present firmly rooted in remembrance of the past, -- the essence of identity.
A sense of history and, thus, of firmly rooted identity is unique to and distinctive of Judaism, when it is healthy. The very essence of the Eternal One\'s faithfulness and love is that “He eternally remembers His covenant” that He made with the forefathers of Israel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “This is My Name forever, and this is My remembrance from generation to generation” he instructs Moshe (Exodus 3:15; 2:23-5). “I have remembered My covenant…and I shall bring you to the Land about which I raised My hand to give it to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and I shall give it to you as a heritage,” the place of your freedom and service (ibid 6:5-8). Even after the most terrible traumas and fallings away He states, “I will remember My covenant with Abraham, and My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Jacob I will remember, -- and I will remember the Land.” This remembrance is the very name and essence of the Eternal One as attested in the first prayer of Israel’s daily liturgy: “Blessed art Thou, G-d… Who remembers the kindnesses of our forefathers.” A similar weight is put on the commandment to “remember Amalek” (Exodus 17; Deut. 26; 1 Samuel 15) who attacked Israel as it journeyed away from the Reed Sea and Egypt toward Sinai. Maimonides, the Rambam directly links the commands to remember and never forget the attack of Amalek to the commandments to wipe them out and rebuild the Temple.
Freedom and remembrance, dedication and identity...
The emphasis that Judaism puts on remembrance as the foundation of being, -- of identity, love, right living in every phase of life -- is shown in its many key words for remembering. Chief among these are zakhor (as in “zakhor et Amalek”) and as in G-d\'s Name itself, "l\'Zakher Kadsho" (Psalm 96, and see the Zohar on portion Vayakel in referencing Malachi 3:16 and “the book of remembrance”) which “is the Name of the Holy One and place of the covenant.” There is also shomer, to guard, observe, keep, watch and protect: it can be practical ethics as in “observance” or in a military sense; Judaism connects them and relates them to the sacred testimony that the Sabbath gives to the Creator, His works and ways. The shomrim l\'boker are the watchman on the walls at night and in the night of time, “from the depths” of times like these, alert for enemies and watching for the dawn of redemption (cf. psalm 130) and the Moshe of our generation, those who keep faith and hope alive by literally standing on the ramparts of the nation. There is also pakod, to reckon, count, make an accounting, set in order, or give an order. It means Torah commandments, specifically those pertaining to the construction of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and all its holy implements and the garments of the Kohanim and high Priest. Critically, it is the root used in the code of remembrance that Joseph teaches his brothers (Genesis 50), pakod yifkod (“He will surely remember you”) that the Eternal One teaches Moshe to announce to the Children of Israel pakod pakadti etkhem (“I have surely remembered you,” Exodus 3:16).
The powers and interests that rule the world East and West want to destroy Israel for many reasons and have attempted and continue to attempt to do this in brutal synchronicity. As they gather against and war over Jerusalem (Zechariah 12-14; Zohar 32a on Exodus, portion Vaeira) it becomes more and more clear that the war against the Jews is a war on remembrance as the essence of genuine freedom, continuity, honor and faith which is buried by “security measures” as well as bombers. The bonds of the generations that the Modern West has done so many things to trivialize, damage and break reflects its war on Judaism and the Jews, -- and its suicidal tendencies.
Remembrance, the sages emphasize is the foundation in holiness, yesod haTiferet, holiness in and through the generations that Esau and Ishmael each in their way corrupt and destroy, the way of peace and joy in a world lost and lusting for war and terror (ibid 200, 203b), lost in pursuit “of the fantasies of its own heart (Proverbs 18:2); and so the earth fills with Hamas (Genesis 6:1-13).
The bonds between the generations and the intertwining of grace-education (chinuch from chein the root of Chanukah, “dedication,” also intrinsic to freedom and remembrance) with freedom and memory are at the heart of Passover when fathers are commanded to teach their children the story of metzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt as the primary manifestation of the Eternal One\'s faithfulness, remembrance, and desire for ordered liberty, dignity and responsibility as the human state of freedom with teaching and grace through the generations entwining it in a threefold cord.
But the modern world wants to go “beyond freedom and dignity.” Their progressive cult is profoundly regressive, a dead-end street, a lust for chaos and the abyss.
As this Passover approaches it looks very dark, for “the earth has become full of the habitations of Hamas” (psalm 74:20), thanks to the rage of jihad and machinations of the western powers and their clients. All the more is it a time to be mindful that remembrance is the essential weapon and health in the struggle with everything at war with the humanity in man that recognizes the Eternity and design of our world for abundance, grace and the dominion of Israel in its entire land. Then “the world will yield its produce…” (Psalm 67, the psalm engraved on the Menorah, Israel’s symbol and witness to the Creator’s gift of true freedom).