Remember not to forget

When bad things happen we have a tendency to want to forget, to move on, and yet the memory of those events are held to deter them from happening again. It is an on-going dilemma, the ability, or as some may argue the blessing of being able to forget and the duty to remember. The plea of the captive not to be forgotten is agonizingly palpable, it is part of our lives. This being our reality, reading of the ability if not the preference to forget, in this week’s portion of Vayeshev is particularly tormenting.

Following the interpretation of the dream of the ‘Sar Hamashkin’ – The chief cupbearer Joseph beseeches him to, 40:14,15;

כִּ֧י אִם־זְכַרְתַּ֣נִי אִתְּךָ֗ כַּאֲשֶׁר֙ יִ֣יטַב לָ֔ךְ וְעָשִֽׂיתָ־נָּ֥א עִמָּדִ֖י חָ֑סֶד וְהִזְכַּרְתַּ֙נִי֙ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֔ה וְהוֹצֵאתַ֖נִי מִן־הַבַּ֥יִת הַזֶּֽה׃

Remember me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, so as to free me from this place.

כִּֽי־גֻנֹּ֣ב גֻּנַּ֔בְתִּי מֵאֶ֖רֶץ הָעִבְרִ֑ים וְגַם־פֹּה֙ לֹא־עָשִׂ֣יתִֽי מְא֔וּמָה כִּֽי־שָׂמ֥וּ אֹתִ֖י בַּבּֽוֹר׃

For in truth, I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews; nor have I done anything here that they should have put me in the dungeon.”


וְלֹֽא־זָכַ֧ר שַֽׂר־הַמַּשְׁקִ֛ים אֶת־יוֹסֵ֖ף וַיִּשְׁכָּחֵֽהוּ׃

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. 

The tautology of not remembering and forgetting cannot go by unnoticed, it is a troubling phrase, adding salt to the wounds. It accentuates that feeling of being abandoned, of not being relevant in the (new) life of the freed prisoner. The double emphasis effectively implies the desire to do so. Driven by indifference if not outright detestment. We similarly entreat the world to remember and yet this very week we witness more obnoxious examples of this very response. The presidents of three of the top universities in America refused to explicitly say that calls for genocide of Jewish people violate campus rules on harassment. It is not only mind boggling, but perilous. They conveniently forget not only our gruesome past but they also choose not to remember their roles and responsibility as leaders. They are guilty of ignoring or shall we say forgetting their own harassment policies. The news channels too encourage if not facilitate on-going memory loss, in their daily reports, the atrocities of October 7th are not mentioned , the ceasefire that existed till October 6th are patently not recalled, they are forgotten.

As we will remember and sing shortly, …באנו חושך לגרש  our calling is to expel the dark, to extinguish evil, and yet not to forget it, to name it, react to it, to fight it and God willing in the spirit of the miracle of Chanukah to defeat it בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה  in those days and also in these very times.

Shabbat shalom   Chanukah Sameach

About the Author
Shalom Orzach is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter and serves on faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. He was a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, following which he was the Executive Director for Jewish Renewal at the UJIA in England. Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion.
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