Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Bo
I read a piece teaching from the great sage, Rav Avraham Kook. I found it inspiring. As I read it a second time, I found myself dwelling on a seemingly benign piece of grammatical curiosity that ultimately taught the most profound of spiritual truths. I say “spiritual truth,” because it only matters to one who is spiritually searching. “Moses told the people: Remember (zachor) this day that you have left Egypt, the place of slavery.” (Exod. 13:3)
I first have to confess that despite all of my degrees, I learned what grammar I know in rabbinical school, learning Hebrew. The word zachor is not in the Hebrew imperative tense – z’chor (remember)! It is also not zachar (remembered) – the perfect or past tense. Zachor is in the infinitive absolute form. I didn’t even know that such a thing existed! Torah is not just commanding us to remember the anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt. As per the commentary, “Zachor implies a state of being. It describes us as a people who always remember this historic date.”
This call to remember transcends time and space and even the anniversary date, itself. Remembering a birthday is more than recalling the moment one took a first breath. No, the day speaks to the entirety of one’s life; a celebration of one’s journey. One cannot take a single breath without appreciating the day of one’s birth, even while no one was cognizant to remember it actually happening. Still and all, even without empirical knowledge of the event, we celebrate it as our ultimate blessing. So too, we may have been symbolically there (as per Deuteronomy 29:9 et. seq.), but physically, we inherit the freedom story and make it our own by continuing to remember and share the blessing of freedom in each generation.
In the same sense, David Ben Gurion related, “Jews worldwide still eat matzah for seven days from the 15th of Nisan. They retell the story of the Exodus, concluding with the fervent wish, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” This is what it means to always remember. Even while the celebration is one week out of the year, it is one week that shapes our behavior every other day of every other week. Eternally, we are now a people committed to freedom and with or without the matzah we can never go back to a day wherein we knew no Exodus and no liberation. Even in the darkest of times, we are forever prisoners of hope, remembering that liberation (ours and everyone’s) is real.
The command is not a reminder to eat matzah during Passover. Rather, Rav Kook explained, “This date will be ingrained in the soul of the Jewish people. That is the secret that Moses revealed to the people. They will succeed in understanding the inner nature of their souls. They will know that this day must be remembered.” (Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 37)
Effectively, this day must be lived every day. We are all still in bondage, perhaps not to each other, but to systems that discriminate, myopic cultural views that separate us, and too often to our own insecurities that keep us from appreciating the way in which this world’s incredible diversity is a blessing for each of us. Zachor, remember that each of us possesses the dignity of divinity. Zachor, freedom requires us to respect each person with whom we interact, for if one is not free – none of us can be. Zachor, remember to love yourself and your neighbor and commit to sharing only the best between you. Zachor, remember to always choose life and blessing for you and for the world around you. Shabbat Shalom.