“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt …you shall wipe out the memory of Amakek from under the heaven – you shall not forget.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 25:17,19) Consistent with the maxim that the Torah contains no extra letters, no less extra instructions, the Talmud (Megilla 18a) explains that “remembering” is a physical, verbal expression, versus “not forgetting”, which is done in the heart.
No, it is not. Not forgetting is a memory function, something that occurs in the brain, not the heart. How do we understand the Talmud?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1) reminds us that our nature is that the brain recalls readily that which our heart yearns for passionately. The Torah is instructing us to instill into our heart an appreciation of the corrosive evil of Amalek, an evil that allowed them to attack our forebears in the wilderness – even though they knew they would be decimated in battle – simply to demonstrate that G-d’s Chosen People were not untouchable. Once we understand that the human is capable of such depravity, and this knowledge shakes us to our core, we will be vigilant to guard ourselves from such degeneracy and, perforce, we will not forget Amalek.
Similar, notes Rabbi Feinstein, is the basis of the teaching of Rabbi Dostai bar Yannai in the name of Rabbi Meir (Pirkei Avos/Ethics of the Fathers 3:10): Whoever forgets anything of his Torah learning, Scripture considers as if he bears guilt for his soul, as it says, “But beware and guard your soul exceedingly lest you forget the things your eyes have seen.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:9) How can we be culpable for failing to remember? We should have such a passion to instill the truths of Torah into the depths of our heart until the totality of our bodies and souls yearn for Torah and mitzvah fulfillment. With such a yearning, forgetting would be impossible.
We find ourselves more than a week into the month of Elul. For a week the shofar has been blown every morning, calling us to wake up and return to G- d and His mitzvos. But we have done this already, last year, two years ago, and the year before that… How can we make this year different? Maybe the problem is not WHAT we decide to improve, but HOW we decide to improve.
A laborer who toiled from morning till night for his daily bread once asked Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, founder of the Mussar (2) movement: since he only had ten or fifteen minutes a day to dedicate to Torah study, to what realm in Torah should he dedicate himself? Rabbi Salanter encouraged him to learn Mussar, for if he toiled in Mussar for those fifteen minutes he would discover that he, indeed, had much more time available for Torah study.
Have a Good Shabbos!
(1) 1895-1986; Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem in New York City; leading Halachic/Jewish legal decisor of his time and one of the principal leaders of Torah Jewry through much of the last century
(2) introspective study of Jewish ethics, with a focus on self application and improvement
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