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Tetzava, Shabbos Zachor: The Obligation to Remember

ושמת את שתי האבנים על כתפות האפד אבני זכרון לבני ישראל, ונשא אהרן את שמותם לפני ה' על שתי כתפיו לזכרון.

“And you shall place the two stones on the shoulder-straps of the eiphod, commemoration stones for the Jewish people; and Aharon should wear their names before Hashem on his two shoulders as a commemoration.” (Shemos 28:12)

Why does the verse repeat that the stones were worn as a commemoration, when it already states that these were avnei zikaron – commemoration stones?

This week is Shabbos Zachor, when we read in the Torah a section in Devarim in which the Torah exhorts us to “remember what Amalek did to you… do not forget!” Why indeed does Hashem insist that we remember Amalek? After all, Amalek is the source of all evil. Why should we focus on evil? Furthermore, the Torah commands us to “erase all memory of Amalek.” If we are required to erase Amalek’s memory, how can we remember his evil constantly at the same time? Shouldn’t we just erase his memory from the world and move on?

Hashem commanded us to remember the Torah at all times and never forget it. We are required to constantly study and review the Torah we learned so as not to forget about the Torah even for a day. How can we remember both the Torah and the evil of Amalek at the same time? These two requirements seem to contradict each other. On what should we foremost focus our memories – on the Torah or on Amalek?

In the beginning of this week’s parsha, the Torah discusses the pure olive oil that was used to light the menorah. There is an interesting thing about olives that has been passed down to us by our sages. Eating whole olives may cause a person to become forgetful, but on the other hand, eating olive oil has the ability to strengthen a person’s memory. It is truly amazing that olives contain both contradictory powers at the same time.

Everything that Hashem created in this world has a beneficial purpose. What is the benefit of forgetfulness?

The truth is that there are some things that are important to remember, but there are other things that we are best off forgetting about. For example, it is best to forget about painful experiences, unkind words spoken by an inconsiderate friend or neighbor, or other unpleasant situations. At the same time, it is important to remember the Torah one learned, the tremendous favors and divine miracles that we experience each day, and the kindness shown to us by others.

All this is true when dealing with our family, friends and neighbors. We should forget about their mistakes and forgive their faults in order to live together in harmony. However, when it comes to Amalek, we must use our memories to remember the evil he did, because if we allow ourselves to forget this we give him the power to pursue us. Amalek is not an evil entity that once existed and is now gone. It represents the forces of all evil in the world, which lie in wait to ensnare us. So in effect, remembering the Torah while never forgetting Amalek’s evil is one and the same thing. By studying Torah and learning constantly, we are erasing the memory of Amalek and weakening his power. There is no question how we can focus on both things at the same time, because it is actually the same thing.

There are different types of stones in the world. There are stones and rocks that are hurtful and damaging, yet there are also gemstones of great value. The verse is telling us to place two stones on our shoulders. This represents the two types of stones – stones that damage property and stones that have great value. Both are commemorative stones – they help us remember both the good that must be upheld, and the evil that must be eradicated. We must remember the gemstone – the Torah, and we must also remember the damaging stone of Amalek in order to protect ourselves from its influence. This is why the verse repeats the word commemoration twice, because we are obligated to remember two separate things at the same time.

The Torah tells us to “erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens – do not forget!” If we will erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens, we will fulfill the requirement of not forgetting the Torah.

Let us remember what our sages tell us about the Yom Tov of Purim: “If all of the festivals will be annulled [at the End of Days], the days of Purim will not be annulled.” Even though Amalek, the source of all evil, will finally be permanently eradicated with the coming of Moshiach, we shouldn’t think that there will no longer be a reason to celebrate Purim. The tremendous holiness of Purim will last forever and will never be annulled!

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