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Points of View
What to Remember, What to Forget
My Point of View--1998
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Our tradition puts a high emphasis on remembering. Every action we take is supposed to remind us of something we already should know. We remember so that we do not have to relearn. Our futures are built on the foundations of our past, not on unexplored and untested ground.

Shabbat reminds us of creation and exodus, tzedakah reminds us of the partnership of justice and compassion, a brakkah reminds us of God's abiding presence in the most mundane of endeavors.

When Yom HaShoah approaches it is difficult to identify just what the brutal results of mass murder are to teach us. What lesson rests on remembered images of rubble and ruin? What knowledge is contained in ashes and mass graves?

Mostly, we'd like to push these images aside and remember happier times. The vitality of Jewish life in Europe was unparalleled during the earliest years of this century. While the lot of Jews was often misery and oppression, the rich internal life of those communities is the object of deep longing in our day.

But we are not given a mandate to remember selectively. The memories of murder over a few short years overwhelm the centuries which precede them, and we must not forget them.

Torah, as usual, provides us with the model to address this dilemma. When Amalek attacked the weary Israelites in the desert, the troops targeted the weakest and most exploitable. The hatred and antagonism of Amalek toward the Israelites overwhelmed any sense of their common humanity. In the name of ideology, the image of God was ignored. We are commanded not to forget to wipe out the remembrance of Amalek.

If we allow anger and distrust to be the lesson of the Holocaust, and marry them to an ideology of Jewish survival, then we imitate Amalek. Far from wiping out his influence by targeting our opponents and their weaknesses, we elevate the tactic and review the legacy.

If, on the other hand, we learn from the graves of our grandparents the appropriate use of power to protect the weak and inspire the privileged, then we remember well, and may enable a time when it will be possible, permissible to forget.

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