Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 71

July 9, 2021

To Remember

Dear Holy Friends,

We are getting closer to the reopening of our building for in-person services, and I am getting more excited about seeing the community come together again for communal prayer. Of course, we will continue to use Zoom for those who are not yet comfortable with gathering indoors, but I do look forward to getting back to learning Torah with you in our sanctuary and to us being able to gather around the Kiddush table.

As many of you know, I have always had an academic interest in liturgy and over the years have investigated various liturgical styles originating from Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and even Kabbalistic traditions. I am appreciative of the fact that various customs and elements of our tradition offer us numerous ways to connect, not only as a community, but also personally, while in our highest moments of prayer to God.

In a less well-known custom, Kabbalistic literature teaches that it is desirable to recite six scriptural passages at the end of the morning service, which remind us to recall specific historical events. According to this tradition, the six remembrances are the “footnotes” of Jewish biblical history.

The six remembrances command us each day to recall: the Exodus; the receiving of the Torah; the attack of Amalek; the sin of the Golden Calf; the sin of Miriam (having spoken out against her brother, the leader of the Jewish people); and finally, Shabbat. Each of these remembrances is a Mitzvah in the Torah due to the word ,כור, Zachor, meaning to remember.

What I like about this custom is that each of the first five remembrances highlight specific interactions that we have available to us in our daily lives. Through the mitzvah of Zachor, the Exodus reminds us of God’s desire to be an active part of Jewish history (Devarim 16:3), the receiving of the Torah reminds us of the primacy of Law (Devarim 4:9-10), and the sin of the Golden Calf (Devarim 9:7) reminds us that there may be obstacles in our spiritual journeys. Next, the saga of Amalek (Devarim 25:17-19) highlights our interactions with the non-Jewish world. The reference to Miriam (Devarim 24:9), reminds us of the power of word-choice in our personal interactions with those closest to us.

The last of the six remembrances is that of Shabbat (Exodus 20:8). Although this remembrance does not fall last in the Torah, I believe that reciting it at the end of the liturgical custom serves a distinct purpose.

Shabbat, itself, is a weekly opportunity to take into consideration the elements of the five other remembrances and what they represent. Shabbat, as it connects to Creation, certainly shows that God wanted to be part of history. Shabbat, with its myriad of regulations and customs, reminds us of the importance of normative behavior, or the observance of God’s laws. Shabbat, in distinction to the story of the Golden Calf, reminds us that there is only one Creator, one Law Giver, and only one holy path to follow. And finally, Shabbat offers us sacred time to rebuild and sanctify our relationships with others, both in word and in deed.

Considering the nature of Shabbat in its entirety, I am reminded of the following quote by Ahad Ha’am, the founder of cultural Zionism. He famously said, “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”

So, as we prepare to welcome in this Shabbat, may we keep in mind the profound nature of the Divine gift of this special day. May we be inspired by the polysemy of the Shabbat and take time to remember God’s partnership in our peoplehood, to recognize how his Torah provides us with a guide for a fulfilling life, and to appreciate the specialness of this day of rest.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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