2004The word "forget" - root shin, chaf, chet - is used 16 times in the Torah, 13 in the book of Deuteronomy. Moses is concerned that the Israelites will forget their covenant with God, the miracles that God performed, or even forget God entirely.
Don't Forget, Only Connect
But guard yourselves and guard your souls scrupulously, lest you forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live.
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1. Why does Moses think that forgetting is even in the realm of possibility? How could the Israelites forget what they'd experienced in slavery or the amazing things that happened on their way to freedom? 2. What does Moses really want them to remember? 3. How do they guard against forgetting?
Talmud Menachot 99B
Resh Lakish said anyone who forgets one word of his learning violates a negative commandment, as it says: "But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, lest you forget, etc." Ravina said: "take care," "lest," are two negative commandments. Rav Nachman bar Yitzhak said: he violates three negative commandments, as it says: "But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget...." Could this be the case if it was unintentional? It is said, "And lest they depart from your heart;" one is not guilty unless he (deliberately) removes them from his heart.
The rabbis of the Talmud affirm Moses' admonition, and, like Moses', their concern is not solely for the knowledge acquired. What the Israelites "saw with [their] own eyes" was the glory of God's revelation at Mt. Sinai - the revelation of Torah and of God's own self to us. At this moment, all Jews (because tradition teaches that all Jews were present at Sinai) experienced connection and even unity with the Holy One. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (18th century) suggests that experience fundamentally changed the essence of the Jewish people, leaving an indelible impression upon our hearts.
So what is intentional forgetting? It is separating ourselves from God, placing an obstacle between ourselves and the Divine, and changing our hearts so that God leaves no impression upon us.
Our hearts are made to be open to the Holy One. Let us listen for God's presence, accustom our hearts to perceiving it - whether it is a still, small voice or one from the whirlwind - and answer.
Prepared by Rabbi Lina Grazier-Zerbarini, Associate Rabbi, Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale.
Additional commentaries and text studies on Parshat Vaetchanan at MyJewishLearning.com.