The Meaning of Remember

This is considered the most important Shabbat of the year, where everyone is commanded to come to synagogue and hear the Maftir Torah reading. We are commanded to remember the actions of a people called Amalek, who attacked us from behind when we were leaving Egypt for the Land of Israel, purposefully cutting off the stragglers in the group, the young and the old alike. We are commanded to blot them out, the reason that every year we blot out the name of a descendant of Amalek, Haman. This commandment is considered so important that we are instructed both to remember and to never forget what Amalek did to us.

Why is so much importance given to how Amalek treated our ancestors? It’s especially interesting because the incident with Amalek occurred shortly after leaving Egypt, whereas in Deuteronomy, 40 years later, the Israelites are ready to enter the Land of Israel. During that time numerous other nations waged war against Israel, so why single out Amalek? Rashi, an 11th century French commentator, argues that the other nations were afraid to wage war against Israel, as they knew about the plagues that had befallen the Egyptians and their drowning in the sea. Amalek, however, was the instigator, unafraid of G-d and of the consequences of waging war. Rashi brought in a comparison story of a boiling bath that no creature could enter…until one villain came and leapt into it. While he was scalded, he cooled off the bath for the others.

Classroom management teaches us that when a classroom is spiraling out of control, one must immediately target the ringleader, and if s/he is punished, things will get toned down quickly. Amalek was that ringleader, the first to wage war against Israel and thus to challenge G-d.

Rabbi Ephraim of Luntshitz, a 16th century Polish commentator who wrote Kli Yakar, has a very different take. He juxtaposes Israel being reminded about Amalek with the section before, which instructs Israel to keep just weights and measures. This is also why, in his view, we read Parshat Shekalim first, as it focuses on the importance of everyone giving an equal contribution. Our ancestors did not trust that God would provide for them, so they did not use fair weights, rather keeping their scales unbalanced or pouring salt on the increase the weights. This lack of trust in one another made Israel weak and prime targets for an attack. Rabbi Ephraim goes one step further, asserting that the cloud of glory representing G-d had protected Israel from its enemies throughout their journey until this point. Amalek therefore came to teach Israel a lesson about proper behavior towards one’s fellow; As G-d says, “Those who lie are not allowed to live in my house.” Therefore, the word זכור, remember, is tied to Amalek’s attack, whereas the phrase לא תשכח, do not forget, is connected to the Israelites’ remembering to trust in G-d and to treat one another fairly.

What does any of this have to do with an Aufruf and an upcoming marriage? First, we need to remember that marriage, even more so than other human relationships, begins with trust in the other. Without trusting one’s partner, the foundation collapses. Marriage requires open communication and honesty, as well as a belief that the other is genuine and true. These convictions will help “protect” the marriage and let the love between you continue to blossom. It will strengthen your marriage, whereas lack of trust will weaken it.

However, there is another connection-the importance of remembrance in a marriage. When things are going great, when you’re in the “honeymoon period,” you don’t need to remember your past-rather you can live in the moment and enjoy life. It’s when things start to get more challenging, when there are lapses in communication or arguments that you need to remember what brought you together in the first place-your devotion to each other and the love and affection you show one another. Through remembering these good times: the first date, the engagement, the upcoming wedding, and the journeys you will take together in the future, you will help ensure that your marital bond always remains strong.

Ashley and Josh, I know that you will always be there for each other and trust in one another and that this will help you conquer any challenge you might face through your working together as a team. Mazal Tov on your Aufruf and your upcoming marriage!

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