This is the season. From the appeals of Parshas Shekolim through matanos la’evyonim and maos chitim, the hungry, needy and indigent line up at our doors. We have wonderful tzedakah opportunities but also other incredible chesed moments. One of these is the nisayon of whether we will treat a meshulach or pauper as a real human being, not just another outstretched hand.
Just yesterday, several of these visitors with sad stories encased in plastic greeted me with the recurring question, “Do you remember me?” Although the true answer was unfortunately usually “no,” I often lied and said something like “of course.”
What is behind this apparently profound need to be memorable?
My sense is that it is not about the money as much as being validated as someone of importance, or at least not just someone receiving nahama dekisufa, the bread of shame. They, too, want to have made an impression upon us and accomplished something besides receiving a hand-out.
The Derech Hashem famously declares that the very creation of the world was predicated upon man being afforded the ability to earn his keep, to justify receiving his Creator’s gifts. The apparent stranger facing us wants desperately to discover that his last visit was not instantly forgotten or unappreciated. After all, he told us a story, bared his soul, and is unique and therefore enshrined forever in our memory.
All of this is certainly true, but I believe that in this season leading up to Purim, with Pesach not far behind, there is an even deeper significance to the need for recognition.
Our first stop on this journey must be a Medrash in which Dovid Hamelech makes a similar request. He begs, “Remember me Hashem when You show Your people favor; recall me with Your salvation” (Tehillim 106:4). The Medrash here reveals the Purim connection: “Dovid said, ‘Master of the universe, when You save [Klal Yisroel] through Mordechai, please remember me.’ Hashem replies, ‘By your life, I will mention you first, as it states, ‘A man of Yehudah, meaning that he came from the tribe of Yehudah and only then it mentions that [his name was] Mordechai.’ Many have struggled to understand why Dovid Hamelech yearned so profoundly to be associated with the miracle of Purim and why he felt that the connection was, in fact, justified (see, for instance, Ze’ev Yitrof, Purim 2:44). Furthermore, why did Dovid want to be associated with Purim more than any of the other miracles and triumphs of Jewish history?
The Maharal (Tiferes Yisroel, chapter 24, page 72) teaches us that “when the Torah mentions someone being remembered, it is generally for something positive and virtuous.” Why is this? Surely, the nature of the world is such that it is precariously balanced between good and evil (see beginning of Derech Hashem). However, Rav Chaim Friedlander (Sifsei Chaim, Middos and Avodah, page 478) explains that “the Zichronos in the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf remind us that we are always standing before Hashem. Our most constant obligation is to remember that day or night, we must strengthen our awareness of the existence of Hashem so that our every action will reflect His will. When we recite “Blessed are You,” we are, in effect, making sure to recall that Hashem is involved in our lives. The phrase hazkoras Hashem, mentioning G-d’s Name, is closely associated with the word to remember Him, for saying something helps to concretize the reality.
This explains the Maharal’s statement that memory is generally for something positive. Hashem created us with the ability to remember and think about Him. Since this is not only a good thing, but the best in the world, the institution of memory itself becomes consecrated and sanctified as the ultimate tool of connection to our Creator. In fact, the Maharal himself (Derech Chaim to Avos 2:8) concludes that “memory is the most elevated of the spiritual powers.”
We can now begin to understand why both Purim and Pesach are defined by mitzvos associated with memory. On the Shabbos before Purim, we will fulfill a mitzvah de’Oraysa to remember what Amaleik did to us, and on Pesach we will fulfill the mitzvah to remember the day we left Mitzrayim. The Sefas Emes (Tetzaveh 5631) asks, “From where does the evil Amaleik even have a zeicher – remembrance – that it must be eradicated? The answer is that they stole it from us.”
When Hashem reminds us of His holy name, He also commands us to remember Him – zeh shemi vezeh zichri (Shemos 3:15).
Interestingly, Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu 1:296 and 3:107) points out a fascinating human phenomenon. We all keep many pictures of our relatives even though we have not forgotten their faces. He refers to this as “one of the secret powers of the soul to depict for ourselves patiently that which will help to restore our soul.” In other words, pictures help keep us from the despair of forgetting things that are important to us.
Perhaps today’s obsession with social media, storing things in artificial clouds and sundry other innovations reflect mankind’s phobia of mass amnesia and the scourge of Alzheimer’s.
The Torah provides many antidotes to this fear. In the viduy maaser (Devorim 26:14), we declare that “I have not forgotten,” which the Mishnah (Maasar Sheini 5:11) and Rashi interpret to mean “I have not forgotten to make the proper blessing and to mention Your Name.” We recite a halacha to our friend before parting from him so that we do not forget each other (Brachos 31a) and we review our learning 101 times so that we will never forget it (Chagigah 9b).
Some poskim say that we put up a matzeivah for the deceased at the end of the year because after that he might become forgotten (Brachos 58b). We remember them at Yizkor by giving tzedakah to eternalize the merits they still require in heaven (Tanchuma, Haazinu).
In fact, one of the reasons the Akeidah is such a powerful and eternal tool of expiation for Klal Yisroel is because it is unforgettable (see Rashi, Vayikra 26:42), since “Yitzchok’s ashes are forever on the heavenly altar before Hashem.” The more something is immune from being forgotten, the more infinite its force for salvation and perfection.
All of this brings us closer to understanding why Dovid Hamelech wanted to be remembered at the time of the Purim miracle. Our triumph over Haman and Amaleik creates a dual triumph over the danger of forgetting our mandate to destroy evil. We will remember and not forget. Dovid Hamelech’s life’s work was to withstand evil and restore the monarchy of Hashem over the world. Malchus Bais Dovid will usher in the ultimate malchus of Hashem, but we dare not forget or allow our zeal, ardor or dedication to fade for a moment. The mention of Mordechai, who resisted Amaleik at great personal sacrifice, evokes the ish Yehudi, the man who follows in the footsteps of Dovid Hamelech in a relentless war against Amaleik and his villainy. Pesach, however, takes memory and remembering to a new level. The Meshech Chochmah (Vayikra 13:14) teaches us that on Pesach, we not only recall past events, but actually testify as witnesses to what occurred. He cites the Mechilta (125) and Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 25b) that sometimes even remembering is not enough. We ourselves must stand up and attest to the events of Yetzias Mitzrayim leading up to Mattan Torah. The Sefer Kuzari stresses many times that what distinguishes us from all the other nations is that millions of us saw the miracles that Hashem performed and our memories of these events is the greatest evidence of the truth of our faith.
This is truly the season when we must all strengthen our memories of each and every Jew we meet, of our ancient triumphs and of the commitments we all made to transmit those ancient memories to future generations. This requires preparation, just as all witnesses must review their testimony and sharpen the details that have become clouded with time. We have been granted four special weeks to hone our skills as witnesses and presenters at our annual opportunities to present the evidence of Hashem’s presence in the world and especially in our nation and ourselves. Let us prepare properly so that future generations never forget the flaming words we offered in the Megillah and at the Seder with the help of Hashem.