Although the Torah commands us regarding a number of commandments “to remember,” such as “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8), we do not find that someone observing the Sabbath must declare that he has not forgotten to fulfill that mitzvah. This makes a verse from our portion, Ki Tavo, all the more curious:
“You must then make the following declaration before the Lord your God: ‘I have removed all the sacred portions from my house. I have given the appropriate ones to the Levite and to the orphan and widow, following all the commandments You prescribed to us. And I did not forget’” [Deut. 26:13].
Why must the Israelite farmer make this declaration upon fulfilling all of his tithing obligations? It seems superfluous. After all, if he has given his tithes, it is apparent that he has not forgotten to do so!
Rashi suggests that the farmer is affirming that he did not forget to make the appropriate blessing. However, why is this the case only regarding this commandment and not others, some of which may be even more difficult to fulfill? Moreover – notwithstanding the importance of blessings – even if one forgets to recite a blessing, the commandment is nevertheless considered to have been fulfilled. So why did the Torah single out this mitzvah?
Perhaps what Rashi had in mind was the necessity for us to give our charity gladly and full-heartedly, even praising the Almighty for the privilege of being among the donors and not among the recipients. Hence, Rashi highlights the importance of not forgetting the blessing of thanksgiving for giving tithes!
I would like to suggest an additional explanation of the significance of the phrase “I did not forget,” which I believe is closely tied to the Biblical words themselves. Recall the closing words of last week’s portion: “…obliterate the memory of Amalek…do not forget (lo tishkach).”
Why must Amalek and the philosophy of Amalek-ism must be obliterated? Because they are the antithesis of the morality of the Torah:
“Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt, when they encountered you on the way, and you were tired and exhausted…. They cut off those weak and infirm, lagging to your rear, and they did not fear God…. You must obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget” [ibid., 25:17–19].
Amalek is identified with evil incarnate because he represents that cruel and diabolical force within humanity that takes advantage of and preys upon the weak and the disadvantaged. Over the centuries his name changes, but his motto remains the same: might makes right. He aims his poisonous hate toward the weakest members of society: the stragglers, the lame, the blind, the old, and the sick.
Amalek’s attack of the weak represents the very opposite of the message that God has just given the Jewish people. If anything, the moral code of this nation of ex-slaves is to never forget its origins, to never inflict upon others what it once suffered on its own flesh at the hands of its Egyptian taskmasters.
Throughout the Torah, the ethical ideal of the Jewish People is to manifest an exquisite sensitivity to the needs of others, especially the disadvantaged other, a landless Levite, a homeless stranger, a defenseless widow, a bereft orphan; the very people Amalek seeks to exploit.
Indeed, Amalek’s attack is not only directed toward a few weak, defenseless stragglers, but is hell-bent upon inflicting the death blow to the people who revere a God of compassion and loving-kindness. Amalek is the quintessence of immorality. Hence the Israelites are commanded not only to wipe out the physical presence of Amalek, but also to obliterate the very memory, or remnant, of his message. Remember what Amalek did to you. “Do not forget.”
The true significance of the strange phrase (“I did not forget”) in our portion now becomes evident. The sins of Amalek and the tithes to the Levites, the stranger, and the poor are intimately connected. In our portion, when the farmer declares, “I did not forget,” the simplest, most straight-forward understanding of this term is that he is referring to the previous command regarding Amalek: he did not forget to give to the widow, to the stranger, to the orphan, to the Levite. After all, if he did not “forget” to help these underprivileged, he did indeed remember to destroy Amalek.
In effect, he is demonstrating to the Almighty that he has internalized the commandment to destroy Amalek and not to forget; in giving his tithes to the disadvantaged he is truly destroying any remnant of the spirit of Amalek.
A leading voice in the Modern Orthodox world, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is an educator, social activist and author who serves as Founder and Chancellor of the Ohr Torah Stone network of pioneering men’s and women’s institutions. He is also Chief Rabbi of Efrat, Israel, and the founding rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City. He earned semicha from Rabbi Soloveitchik at Yeshiva University, and a PhD from NYU.