I started doing some research about this week’s parasha, Ki Tetzei, and my eyes just glazed over. Not that I find the text boring, quite the opposite. It’s so jam-packed with laws and instructions that I struggle to find order and meaning. Almost each and every sentence presents food for thought. I read that it’s the most mitzvah-heavy parasha in the entire five books, over 70 mitzvot, or commandments, out of the 613 said to be listed in the Torah. It wasn’t until the very end of the parasha that my mind slowed down:
“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, all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deut. 25:17-19)
Now, we normally read this section on the Shabbat before Purim, making the connection between Amalek and Haman. But reading it in the weekly context, at this time of the year is to give it another layer of meaning. We are about half-way through the month of Elul, only weeks away from Rosh Hashanah, when we spend our time focusing on forgiveness and renewed beginnings. We are acutely conscious, day by day, the New Year is approaching. Some people observe a practice of hearing the Shofar every day (except Shabbat) during the month of Elul, highlighting the daily move closer to the time when our self-reflection reaches a peak. Some like me sign up for free internet “reminders” like Jewels of Elul (http://www.craignco.com/jewels/). However we mark this month, we’re preparing for that time when, in traditional language, we stand together, aware that God will remember our personal sins and pray that God forgives them.
What strikes me so much about this passage is that its first word is “remember” and its last word is “forget”. Read at this time of year, however, where do we find forgiveness? Here we have text that says, at once, both to remember and forget the same thing. Don’t forget to remember to blot out the enemy’s memory so he won’t be remembered? How does that make sense? Are we holding a grudge only to forget why? Is forgiveness in the forgetting or the remembering?
I have a lot of trouble with being forgiving. I may say I’ve forgiven someone, but in truth it’s never that simple. I’ve found that forgiveness comes slowly; it’s not automatically given right after the apology. Sometimes I don’t even get the “I’m sorry”, but I do want to forgive anyway. Maybe that’s where the remembering comes in. It’s not because I don’t want to move on, it’s because I keep remembering the hurt and pain. I guess before we can fully forgive or be forgiven, we need to engage with the memory of what’s happened, and sometimes it takes time for that to dissipate. Maybe that’s also why we start thinking about forgiveness a full month before Rosh Hashanah; to give ourselves and even God time to work on the process, and it’s not clear if the process begins with Forgiveness, Remembering or Forgetting. This year, I’m still in the remembering stage. We’ll see how close I get to forgiveness and forgetting in the next few weeks.
In any case, don’t forget to have a beautiful and peaceful Shabbat.