Remember what Not to Forget (Ki Tavo)
Woe to that nation whose literature is cut short by the intrusion of force. This is not merely interference with freedom of the press but the sealing up of a nation’s heart, the excision of its memory. -Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
In the beginning of the Torah reading of Ki Tavo, Moses instructs the nation of Israel regarding the obligation of the future farmers of Israel to bring from their first fruits to the Temple and the ceremony of presenting them to the Kohen. The ceremony recalls Jewish history up to that point in a few concise verses and actually forms the base of the text for the Passover Haggadah.
The Bat Ayin on Deuteronomy 26:2 connects the obligation to bring the first fruits to the very first fruits that God caused to grow at the creation of the world. In discussing creation, he further draws on God stating that He “forms light and creates darkness” (Isaiah 45:7). The word “darkness” in Hebrew, (CHoSHeCH), has the same letters as the word “forgot,” (SHaCHaCH)
The Bat Ayin explains that when God created man, the darkness that He is referring to is man’s capacity to forget. That capacity in fact is what gives human beings an aspect of free will. If we had perfect memories and always remembered to follow God’s commands, if our pristine faculties of recall didn’t allow us to ever veer from the right path, then we would be angels and not human beings.
However, the lack of a strong memory doesn’t excuse us. Just two verses earlier (Deuteronomy 25:19) in a seemingly paradoxical command, we are told we need to destroy the memory of the nation of Amalek (the nation that ambushed Israel when they exited Egypt and would prove to be a nemesis throughout the biblical account). The command to wipe out the memory of Amalek is punctuated with the phrase “don’t forget,” (Lo TiSHKaCH). So, do we have to forget them? Do we have to remember to forget them? Or do we have to forget to remember them? It seems counterintuitive.
The Bat Ayin explains that the attribute of Amalek was to cause Israel to forget God. Amalek caused Israel to focus on the material, causal world and to forget the spiritual and divine world. Amalek would deny the existence and presence of God in our lives. It is that atheism that we need to remove from our minds. It is the darkness that repudiates God that we need to escape. The foundational belief in God is such a fundamental issue that we can’t forget the struggle. We can’t forget the existence of God. We can’t forget to deny the deniers. It is something we can’t afford to forget.
May we always remember the fundamental principles that should guide our lives.
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