Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
Rabbi Benjamin Yudin

Forget Me Not

The wise King Solomon notes (Koheles 7:14) that Hashem always presents us with choice and sharp contrast. For example, the Anshei Kneses HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) prayed for His Divine assistance to remove the attraction and addiction to idolatry and their prayer was answered in the affirmative, therefore we don't have that attraction and ask ourselves how it was possible for intelligent people to subscribe to idolatry. Why was the yetzer hara for idolatry created to begin with? An answer is that when the first Beis Hamikdash was in existence, where one saw the presence of Hashem daily (see Avos 5:8), the lure of idolatry was necessary to give man choice and free will.

Similarly, we encounter in Parshas Vaera a phenomenon whereby Pharaoh experiences the plague of blood and all its severe consequences and yet, "V'lo shos libo" (Shemos 7:23) - he is able to ignore it and suspend the natural instinct of self- preservation such that it did not override his personal defiance of Hashem. Pharaoh has the ability to blot out the past and ignore its consequences.

In sharp contrast to Pharaoh is the leader of the Jewish people, Amram (Rambam Hilchos Melachim 9:1). The Shalah in this week's parsha tells us to note the difference in how the Torah presents the genealogy of the tribes of Reuven and Shimon in contrast to that of Levi. The former is listed (6:14) by the heads of their tribes. Regarding Levi the Torah calls attention to the names of his progeny - "Note the names of the descendents of Levi" (6:16). The tribe of Levi was not included in the Egyptian servitude. Levi foresaw with Divine inspiration the impending oppressive exile and named his three sons, Gershon, Kehas, and Merari to be ever mindful of the dangers facing the Jewish nation. Amram and Yocheved lived during this horrific era, and to always remember the plight of the rest of the tribes they named their daughter Miriam - bitter. They were "shos libo", they remembered constantly by articulating and calling their daughter's name; they shared the pain and suffering of others.

The Torah, by presenting Pharaoh's "lo shos" and Amram's usage of a constant reminder, teaches us how easy it is for man to forget. Therefore the Torah builds into the very fabric of our lives the antidote to forgetting, by legislating and implementing constant reminders. Even Moshe Rabbeinu was afraid of forgetting. The Ramban (Shemos 4:10) teaches that since the origin of Moshe's speech defect came about in a miraculous way, i.e. from the angel moving baby Moshe's hand from the gold to the coals (Shemos Rabbah 1:26), Moshe did not ask Hashem to cure him of this deficiency so that he would always remember Hashem's kindness. The Sefer haChinuch (420) in discussing the mitzvah to recite the Shemah, our pledge of allegiance, twice daily, explains that fragile man who is easily swayed from his spiritual pursuits needs the twice daily reminder of Hashem's sovereignty. In addition, in mitzvah 421 in explaining the mitzvah of Tefillin he again writes that man in all times is drawn to satisfy his bodily pleasures and needs, and therefore requires the daily reminder of donning Tefillin that protects the soul from defilement.

The Torah alludes to the Exodus from Egypt no less than fifty times to literally ingrain in the Jewish nation the thirteen principles of faith as articulated by the Rambam, each of which is found in the Exodus. Every morning and night we are reminded of His being the Creator, as exhibited by His manipulation of nature during the Exodus. We are reminded of His love for His people Israel, demonstrated by endowing millions of people with prophecy, and giving us His Torah at Sinai.

Man was created needy. Interestingly, in the beracha of Boreh Nefashos that we often recite daily, we thank Hashem for creating man and his being needy, "v'chesronon." The beracha continues, "for You sustain all living beings, blessed is the Life of Worlds". The Aruch haShulchan explains the closing words of the beracha, "blessed is the Sustainer of the worlds", to mean that He provides us in this world by giving us nourishment, and our recognition of the fact that this nourishment comes from Him acquires for us a share in the next world, hence the last word ("worlds") being plural.

Among the needs of man is the need for constant reminders. Hashem endowed man with the gift of both memory and forgetfulness. On the one hand, forgetting is oftentimes a blessing. One who experiences a tragedy, such as the loss of a child, Rachmana litzlan, or a spouse, could not continue their lives without the ability to somewhat forget. On the other hand, man forgets too often what is to be his focus and concern in this world. The Dubner Maggid highlights this idea when commenting on the verse (Devarim 32:18), "you forget the G-d that formed you." He notes that Hashem gives man the gift of forgetfulness and man misuses this gift by forgetting Hashem and His laws.

Each and every generation faces its own unique challenges. Our extremely open liberal society generates its crises. Just as one can appreciate the probation of yichud and how it safeguards Jewish moral values, one must realize that there can be an isur yichud with a computer. One's self control today provides no assurance for the future. "Who is the wise one? - the one that can see the future" (Avos 4:1). The wise one today is he who insures that the forbidden will not be seen in the future.

Finally, it is very considerate that one put their cell phone on vibrate when davening in Shul since they are respecting the needs of those around them and refraining from disturbing them. But what about themselves? As much as one wishes to ignore the vibrate, the momentary reflection of who might that be is a forbidden intrusion on our tefillah (see Orach Chaim 90.)

Hashem promises (Vayikra 26:42) that He will always remember His covenant and the land of Israel. We owe it to Him to reciprocate in kind and always be mindful of Him.

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