Friday, September 12, 2008

The Redemptive Power Of Memory

12 Elul 5768, 12 September 08 01:27
by Moshe Kempinski

The Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of modern day Hassidism, said, "Forgetting is the beginning of Exile; remembering is the beginning of Redemption."

President Shimon Peres said, in an interview with David Hume (2000), the following chilling words, "You know, they say the Jewish people have a long memory. What we need is a rich imagination today, because the things that are going to happen - or did happen already - are so revolutionary that the past becomes pale, irrelevant."

We are living in a world that glorifies the present and denies its responsibilities of the past. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is head of a political party that boasted that they had no ideology and were "not prisoners to any legacy." It is not surprising, then, that he has fallen into the state wherein he is in now being accused of bribery and corruption .This is the inevitable result of having no sense of memory and purpose. Olmert, in fact, believes that the memory of Israelis is so short that they will yet forgive him for any of his own past misdeeds. That is the reason he is so intent on creating some diplomatic and political event that will sway the short attention span of modern Israel.

That is not the spirit of Judaism that is blowing in the wind, but rather the noxious breeze of Amalek.

Amalek, a small tribe descending from Esau living in the Negev region of Israel, attacks the Israelite nation as they leave Egypt. They may have been the first, but were definitely not the last. They may have been cruel, but were not the most brutal. They may have inflicted damage on the new people leaving slavery, but the destruction pales in comparison to the damage inflicted by the Romans, Babylonians and Edomites. Yet, it is the nation of Amalek that becomes the prototype of evil.

Remember what Amalek did unto you by the way as you came forth out of Egypt; how he then happened upon you by the way, and smote the hindmost of you, all that were enfeebled in your rear, when you were faint and weary; and he feared not G-d. Therefore it shall be, when HaShem your G-d hath given you rest from all your enemies round about, in the land which HaShem your G-d gives you for an inheritance to possess it, that you shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shalt not forget. (Devarim 25:17-19)

The Zohar asks, "What is the reason that the war that Amalek waged against Israel was singled out for remembering by the Holy One Blessed Be He, more than all the wars that all other nations waged against Israel?" (Zohar, Shemot 194b) The answer is that the war battled by Amalek was not only physical, but spiritual. The essence of the battle of Amalek can be understood by understanding one word in the Biblical text:" they happened upon you [asher karcha] by the way, and smote the hindmost of you."

The word karcha does not make sense. The Amalekites could not just have happened upon the Israelites, as they were living a very great distance from where the Israelites were wandering. So if the attack was premeditated, then what then does the word karcha mean? Rashi on that verse gives three possible explanations for the word, all three of which give great insight into Amalek and their mission. We will focus on one of them. The word karcha comes from the word mikreh - "happenstance"

In the words of Reb Tzadok HaCohen, "The whole essence of Amalek is random happenstance... and as it is written 'how they happened [asher karcha] upon you': since Amalek attributes all things to random chance."

That is the reason the descendant of Amalek, Haman, decided to throw lots to determine the date of the Jewish people's destruction, rather than destroying them the moment he had the chance. It was more important for him to solidify the belief in random happenstance when confronting the Jew than it was to eradicate the Jew immediately. That is the reason that Amalek attacked the Israelites immediately after the miraculous exodus from Egypt. The exodus from Egypt had achieved one of its stated goals in impressing the nations of the world that the world was being ruled with Divine purpose and was not, in fact, run by randomness.

The woman Rahav of Jericho says to the two spies that Joshua sent into the land:

...and she said unto the men: 'I know that HaShem hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how HaShem dried up the water of the Red Sea before you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were beyond the Jordan, unto Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard it, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more spirit in any man, because of you; for HaShem your G-d, He is G-d in heaven above, and on earth beneath. (Joshua 2:9-11)

Amalek did away with that memorable history. Amalek, who in Gematria is equivalent to the Hebrew word safek or "doubt," ignored those memories because Amalek was to be a nation with no memory. Amalek was a nation that lived simply in the here and now; past events and experience was irrelevant. In so doing, he was following in the footsteps of his ancestor Esav, whose name comes from the word asui - "fully made." Esav and Amalek did not need to grow and change, they were what they were. Jacob was all about memory. Jacob, by virtue of his name, was all about following forward - le'akov.

That is the reason that the Jewish people are bidden to remember and never forget Amalek. They are bidden to blot out their remembrance. To blot out the remembrance of a nation with no memory. If the Jewish nation does not succeed in that task, then Amalek will have succeeded in tainting their spiritual core. Without a deep sense of history , a clear vision of the reality around them, and a spiritual vision of destiny, the Jewish people will lose direction and falter. This is what has already happened to our leadership and continues to threaten to engulf the rest of Israeli society.

Yet, deep historical memory, open-eyed awareness of reality and spiritual vision has not died in this country.

This week, I participated in a wedding among the ancient ruins of the Talmudic village of Katzrin on the Golan. A son of friends who had settled in the community of Nov, on the Golan, was marrying the daughter of one of the founding families of that community. As we guided the groom towards his bride with singing and dancing through the narrow alleyways of the ruins of the Katsrin village, I was struck by an overwhelming thought.

Here we were, two thousand years after the destruction of this village, singing, "There will yet be the sound of the groom and the bride...." And I imagined that behind the dark stones of the ruins were hiding the souls of all the ancient residents singing and rejoicing with us. The descendants of those same souls never forgot their past and, after two thousand years, came back to reclaim it. These young people with their whole future unfolding before them decided to cement that future by declaring their faithfulness in the ruins of an ancient synagogue.

One of the secrets of the Jewish people is that there is no such thing as a twenty-, forty- or sixty-year-old Jew. Every Jew alive today is three thousand years old.

That is the power of memory. "Forgetting is the beginning of Exile; remembering is the beginning of Redemption."