Remember, Don’t Forget!

The many commandments in Judaism relating to remembering both positive and negative experiences motivate us to work towards redemption.

Commentary on Parashat Ki Teitzei, Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19

  • Moses reviews a wide variety of laws regarding family, animals, and property. (Deuteronomy 21:10–22:12)
  • Various civil and criminal laws are delineated, including those regarding sexual relationships, interaction with non-Israelites, loans, vows, and divorce. (Deuteronomy 22:13–24:5)
  • Laws of commerce pertaining to loans, fair wages, and proper weights and measures are given. (Deuteronomy 24:10–25:16)
  • The Torah portion concludes with the commandment to remember for all time the most heinous act committed against the Israelites — Amalek‘s killing of the old, weak, and infirm after the Israelites left Egypt. (Deuteronomy 25:17–19)

Focal Point

When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow–in order that Adonai your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat down the fruit of your olive trees, do not go over them again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not pick it over again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment. (Deuteronomy 24:19–22)

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt–how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when Adonai your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that Adonai your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17–19)

Your Guide

Parashat Ki Tetze contains a long list of seemingly random mitzvot (commandments). Rambam counted 72 military, social, legal, ritual, and ethical laws. What is the connection between the passages from Deuteronomy 24 and 25?

The first text states that if you leave what you’ve forgotten for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, God will “bless you in all your undertakings.” What do you think this blessing entails? Do you think that God blesses us when we act ethically?

The second text says that we should both “remember what Amalek did” to us and “blot out the memory of Amalek.” Are these conflicting instructions? Why or why not?

By the Way…

When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Genesis 9:14–15)

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of Adonai your God: You shall not do any work–you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days Adonai made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them, and God rested on the seventh day; therefore Adonai blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8–11)

Rabbi Abahu said: Why do we blow on a ram’s horn? The Holy One of blessing said, “Sound before Me a ram’s horn so that I may remember on your behalf the Binding of Isaac the son of Abraham and account it to you as if you had bound yourselves before Me.” (Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 15a)

[Writing about Deuteronomy 24:19] This is the mitzvah of shichecha, forgetting. One may not perform this mitzvah with any premeditation. Our ancestors could not “plan” to forget 50 or 100 sheaves per harvest to provide that much more for the need to their communities. It just had to happen. They forgot. Good! (Danny Siegel, Gym Shoes and Irises: Personalized Tzedakah)

And because with [the Hebrew letter] zayin there is memory, there is also a light, which shines from one end of the universe to the other. Zohar. The Book of Light, the volumes of splendor…Many believe the light has been forever lost. But this is not so. It is only because we ignore the sacred vessel of light: memory. (Lawrence Kushner, The Book of Letters)

In remembrance lies the secret of redemption. (attributed to the Baal Shem Tov)

Your Guide

Memory has always been a part of our Jewish tradition. In the passages above from Genesis and Exodus, who is doing the remembering? What is being remembered?

Probably based upon biblical texts like Genesis 9:14–15, the Rabbis of the Talmud seem to have no problem “thinking” for God, as evidenced in the Talmud, Rosh Hahanah passage. What are some of the other reasons we sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? Do you think that God needs a reminder “on our behalf?”

What is the significance of the “signs” of remembrance that are discussed in the first three texts above? What techniques do you use to remind yourself of important names, events, etc.? Do these methods work for you?

The act of “not remembering” also seems to be important. Danny Siegel reminds us that the Torah instructs us, here and elsewhere (Leviticus 19:9–10), to leave a portion of the harvest behind for the poor and the stranger. Do you need to be reminded to do the right thing? What reminds you to leave “the edges of your field” (Leviticus 19:9) for the less fortunate?

The root of the Hebrew verb for “remember,”, begins with the letter zayin. In The Book of Letters, Rabbi Kushner links the themes of memory and redemption. Do you feel that there is a connection between the two? What is it?


The act of remembering recurs throughout Judaism: Our calendar is full of remembrances from our past. The pinnacle is, of course, Passover. On Passover we remember the time: we were freed at midnight; the consciousness: we are told that each of us should feel as if he or she were freed from slavery in Egypt; and even the menu: we eat specific foods at the seder meal.

It should be apparent, however, that we Jews don’t stop there, content with our happy memories of past triumphs and prior journeys. Our memories shape us and guide our mission to build a better world. Our memories of bondage should remind us to wipe out slavery and to treat all people with dignity. Our memories of leaving the corners of our fields untouched should remind us to take care of “the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow” both within and outside our community. Our memories of Amalek should remind us of our role to blot out evil in the world.

Ours is an active existence: We do not live in a state of forgetfulness or “forgottenness” but in a state of memory and consciousness that induces us to seek to make the world a better place. By doing so, we help realize the Baal Shem Tov‘s words that “in remembrance lies the secret of redemption.”

Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

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