Why God wants us to Remember: Part I “The Past”.

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William J Jackson

Introduction

In the Torah God tells us to remember a lot of things.  He tells us to remember…

… His name, Exodus 3:15

… His Sabbath, Exodus 20:8

…His Holy Holidays, Exodus 12:14, 13:3, Leviticus 23:24

… His Commandments, Numbers 15:40

Also at other time He has us doing things to remember, like…

…wearing Tzitzit to remember His Commandments; Numbers 15:39, 40.

…not eating yeast as a reminder of leaving Egypt; Deuteronomy 16:3.

…living in shelters as a reminder of the Israelites struggle; Lev. 23:42-43.

He even tells us to remember Him and He will save us (Numbers 10:9, Psalm 55:17, 73:28, 91:15).

In short, remembering appears to be very important for our God.

Yet, if we think God is demanding, we need to remember that it was Him that remembered us first.  Point in case, He has always remembered the covenant He made with His people which has gotten us out of trouble plenty of times; Genesis 9:15, 16, 19:29, 21:1 Exodus 32:13, Leviticus 26:42, 45, Psalm 105:8, 42.  Furthermore, in Israel’s bleakest moment, His remembrance rescued them from slavery (Exodus 2:24, 4:31, 6:5). It must be said that His remembering of “us” has certainly put us in His debt.  So, it should only be fitting that we would be willing to do the same for Him – our Creator.   

So since remembering is essential to the Creator, we need to ask ourselves “ what benefit or benefits does remembering offer”?  In knowing this, we might be able to “remember” not in our way, but in a way that glorifies Him.

It can be said “Remembering” has three benefits, one for each of its tenses; past, present and future:

 

  • Remember to Honor; Past
  • Remember to inspire life; Present
  • Remember for awareness; Future

 

Starting today and over the next three weeks, we will start a three part series on why God wants us to remember.  Today we will start with the past.    

Part I -Past; to Honor

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In Deuteronomy Moses gives a series of speeches as part of his farewell to his people.  In these speeches he recaps much of Exodus through Numbers.  In these narrative recollections, it seems important for the Israelites to remember their oppression as Moses tells them;

Remember you were a slave and God rescued you; Deut. 4:20, 5:15.

Remember what God did to Pharaoh; Deut. 7:18.

Remember God bringing you out of Egypt; Deut. 7:19, 16:3.

Remember God leading Israel through the desert; Deut. 8:2.

To break it down, the word Exodus means “going-out” or departing and the Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzraim”1 (מצרים). It stems from a Hebraic root which means to bind, shackle, imprison, and it can mean bondage, servitude, or slavery. In essence, remembering the Exodus is reflecting on God’s rescuing His people from oppression.

Figuratively, many of us have had lived in our own Egypt.  We have been shackled by adversity, whether it was addiction, abuse, poverty, complacency… or whatever else.  God has freed us from them all.  Yet, it is not enough to “be thankful” for what He did, one must express their gratitude, as King David did “ I give thanks to Adonai with all my heart. I will tell about all your wonderful deeds.” – Psalm 9:2 (also Psalm 86:12, 86:12, 111:1, 146:1-2).  Acknowledging our blessings should not just be a thought, it should be an action, like changing our behavior and being verbal with our appreciation. In Genesis 40 while Joseph was in prison he interpreted the dreams of the prisoners.  As we recall, Joseph predicted the release of the “cupbearer”.  His only requirement for his services was to have the cupbearer” remember him (Genesis 40:14).  Eventually, the cupbearer would remember his promise to Joseph (Genesis 41:12-14), which resulted in Joseph being freed.  Image if the cupbearer, instead of taking action, just quietly reflected on Joseph in his head. It would make remembering a worthless act.  Remembrance must have action behind it to count.

If we were to bring this understanding to our lives, we can look at our own interactions with people.  Image helping someone out of a bind (i.e. giving them a job or money) and that person forgetting that you helped, with them quickly falling prey to their same old situation.  I doubt seriously that you would be so eager to help them again – “why?”.  Because they didn’t remember two crucial components; You and themselves.

As for you, when someone gets you out of trouble they should value what you did enough to not find himself in the same old place. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto the author of the famous book “Path of the Just” says it best “It is a sin to help someone who does not show discernment”.  This is certainly not a Christian maxim, but makes complete sense.  Simply said, by helping those that do not possess the sincerity to change, you are preventing them from learning and growing.  One must have humility to be able to remember and this humility is essential to our human growth. Also, you (the giver) are just as culpable because you are an enabler to one who doesn’t show discernment.

Secondly, they do not value themselves enough to change their behavior.  Yes, it is hard to change, this is where sincerity comes in and one needs humility to allow sincerity to grow.

Remembering, reminds us of the obligation we have to…

  1. God and others for helping us through a tough situation.  The greatest dishonor we can show them is to repeat the same mistakes.  This would imply that we didn’t value their help.
  1. Self, because if we do not value ourselves, we will not improve.

As the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of Hasidic Judaism ) taught,

“Forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret of redemption,”

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Baal Shem Tov

Reference:

  1. “Egypt means bondage in Hebrew.” Learn Torah. Accessed August 12, 2017.
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