Four Remembrances

There are four remembrances in the Torah that God asks us to hold in our mind. The Hasidic Master, Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt, teaches that these four remembrances are the essence and root of religion.

The first remembrance is to remember the day of Mount Sinai. God is asking us to live every moment as if we were camped before the mountain. For a human being, he says, there may be past, present and future, but for God there is no time – He is always giving the Torah at every moment of every day. We are always standing before God.

How do we pursue our lives if we are standing in God’s presence? How do we see and treat other people if God is by our side? How do we dwell in the Divine consciousness of the Eternal Now?

Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua tells us that it is of particular importance to rest in the consciousness of Sinai when we sit down to study. Our learning should be a living experience. We strive to feel God speaking to us through the teachings in the book. We tremble in awe before the Word of God.

The second remembrance is to keep in mind how God punished Miriam for speaking evil of her brother Moses. God, Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua declares, does not want us to be agents of strife and divisiveness. He does not care for speech that is harsh and destructive. God desires that we speak words of support, healing and encouragement. He wishes our voice to resound with hope, inspiration and prayer.

Humankind was created to be a source of light and spiritual power in the world. God created us to be His instruments. He needs us to bring His goodness and compassion down into this physical reality.

This lofty ideal needs to constantly be before our eyes. The true spiritual seeker aspires to make it the focus of his or her life. As Saint Francis of Assisi implores God in his prayer:

“where there is hatred, let me sow love…where there is despair – hope, where there is darkness – light, where there is sadness – joy.” [1]

The third remembrance is to remember the Shabbat day to keep it holy. Shabbat is a state of consciousness. It is a higher world where all is peace, harmony and tranquility. Shabbat is a day when we leave behind all the chaos and disharmony of daily existence and rest in God. On Shabbat, we turn away from all the habits of the working week and direct our minds toward that which is Infinite and Eternal.

Yet the observance of the Sabbath day is not enough. God desires still more from our Shabbat remembrance. He urges us to bring the peace of Shabbat into our everyday encounters, to infuse our every thought, word and deed with its inner light. We need to instill the Shabbat awareness so deeply inside us that we carry it with us throughout the week.

Lastly, God commands us to remember Amalek. At the same time that He is asking us to be an instrument for good and to live in the consciousness of the Shabbat, God is also reminding us to never forget that each of us is capable of great evil. God desires that we wipe out Amalek from the world. And the place where He wants us to begin this work is by eradicating the evil that is inside ourselves.

This teaching is not a dark and pessimistic view of humanity. It is a realistic understanding of the human condition. Every one of us can do great good and also great evil. Every one of us can be a saint or a sinner. As long as we remember both of these two truths, then all is well. Whenever one of them is forgotten, the world is plunged into crisis and turmoil.

This dual nature of ours bestows upon us the uniquely human gift of choice. Only a human being has free will. Only a human being can harness the willpower and love in his heart and extinguish the spark of Amalek before it ignites. Only a human being can overcome evil with good and thereby uplift the world.

The Torah tells us that Amalek attacked the Children of Israel when they were tired and weary. It is when we are in despair that the negative side comes rushing to confront us. It is when we are suffering that we wish to lash out at other human beings. It is when life feels cruel and unjust that we are receptive to the evil inside us. It is at such moments of fragility and vulnerability that Amalek rears its head and strikes.

Under these difficult circumstances, Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua advises us to cling tenaciously to God. We need to draw on the Divine goodness that is stored inside us. We need to pray for strength, courage and self-control. We need to take up the spiritual weapon of intense sincere prayer and utterly vanquish our inner foe.

When we tap into the power of prayer, we can overcome any obstacle. When we are alive with love and yearning for God, no evil can touch us.

These are the four remembrances that lie at the heart of Judaism. They all work hand-in-hand. If we strive at every moment to stand before God and to live in the consciousness of the Shabbat, then there will be no room for evil to grow inside us and we will become pure instruments of love and compassion. Then, we will raise up the Divine sparks hidden in everyone we meet. We will be a spiritual force that can transform the world.

Copyright © 2011, by Yoel Glick

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Lord make me an Instrument of Your peace, prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi.

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