Thursday, May 1, 2014

Zechira: fostering a transformational process

In the previous post we noted the surprising distinction between Kiddush and Sippur. Though we would expect that a command to remember a day, would obviously determine the time of remembrance, in fact, only the command "Remember the Shabbos day" meets our expectation. In the case of Sippur, the command "Remember this day" is understood to leave the timing of sippur yetziat mitzraim indeterminate. It is only by means of an additional command -"You shall tell your son on that day saying: 'for the sake of this'..." -that we can determine that the 15th of Nissan is the time of sippur.

Question: Why does the one command to "remember" determine the timing of remembrance in Shabbos while in Sippur we need to supplement by taking into account the additional message of "for 
the sake of this" ??

Answer: we need to explore the sort of "remembrance" the Torah is dealing with first. Once this sense of "remembrance" is understood in principle, we will be able to understand the application to remembering a specific "day".

There are two targets of remembrance: 1. Retaining data 2. Self Transformation.

1. Retaining data. Obviously, we have limited ability to retain factual details. 

This limited ability to retain facts is illustrated in our use of memory aides such as shopping lists. It is difficult to keep the 20-30 items we need to buy in mind. We therefore make to-do lists for shopping as well as the many other fact based tasks we have in a busy day.

I believe that our expectation that a command to remember a day determines the timing of the remembrance is rooted in this limiting data retention sense of memory. 

Understood as data retention, "remember the Shabbos day" translates neatly into an obligation to put reciting kiddush into the post sunset slot of our to-do list on Shabbos. Similarly, "remember this day" obligates us to put reciting the hagada into the post sunset slot of our to-do list on the 15th of Nissan.

Yet, as we know, there is a deeper aspect underlying our tendency to forget shopping items beyond our limited ability to retain data. We want to be free to pursue our wishes, unencumbered by the responsibility of tasks like shopping, or working.

This conflict over dedicating one's time to responsibility remains constant, the Franklin Planner, shopping lists and other memory devices we use merely maximize the chances of a given task being done despite the conflict.

The solution to our problem, therefore, lies in rethinking the assumption that the Torah commands of remembrance refer to retaining data. In fact, 
Zechira transcends mere data retention to address the root issue in forgetfulness- the conflicted nature of our psyche.

But what is the deeper nature of this internal conflict that the remembrance of Torah addresses? 

2. Remembrance of Self Transformation

In explication of the word "zachar" in Sefer ha-Shorashim, Radak points to the cause of internal conflict and the underlying need for remembrance. Radak illustrates the uderlying issues of "remembrance" and "forgetfulness" in the case of Joseph and the Cup bearer of Pharaoh. 

In this astute selection of the Cup bearer to illustrate the Torah's sense of "zachar" Radak points us to the 2nd kind of remembering-that of self transformation.
The high ranking Cup bearer respected Joseph's great wisdom only so long as he was powerless, a fellow prisoner needing an interpretation for his dream. The Cup bearer forgot Joseph's Wisdom as soon as his normal state of empowerment was restored.

The Cup bearer's self image was not flexible enough to acknowledge the framework of wisdom in which he was lesser than a lowly Hebrew slave. Far from maintaining remembrance of Wisdom, the Cup bearer sought to remove his focus from Joseph altogether. Vi'Lo zachar sar hamashkim et Yosef-vayishkachehu. "The Cup bearer did not remember Joseph, (instead) he forgot him".

The Cup bearer's inflexibility created a counter force of forgetfulness which held him from educational growth. Instead of translating his fortuitous experience with Joseph into a life changing opportunity, the Cup bearer hid from the tension of self transformation. 

All the Cup bearer had to do was to remember Joseph's problem solving power. Joseph's wisdom was not limited to providing a solution to the Cup Bearer's dream. In its more general sense, Joseph's wisdom could have been the basis of an ongoing educational relationship, in which the cup bearer would have gained illuminating insights, solutions to problems in each and every domain of life activity. 

Instead of embracing the opportunity, the cup bearer broke his ties with Joseph to limit the conflict it produced for his existing self concept. The cup bearer could not endure the flexibility that the process of true education entails.

The same tendency to hide from the challenge intrinsic to encountering human wisdom can be seen in our relationship with Hashem's wisdom as well. Here too, our inflexibility of self concept obstructs translating our Encounters with Divine Wisdom into an ongoing educational relationship.

This tendency to avoid remembrance is best illustrated in our Encounter with Hashem's Divine Wisdom at Sinai. As the Cup bearer sensed the universal wisdom implicit in Joseph's dream interpretation, the Jews sensed the Universal Wisdom of Hashem implicit in the 10 d'varim of Sinai. This Wisdom was potentially applicable in 613 mitzvot to all aspects of life.

As the Cup bearer protected his sense of self in the security of his political framework, we sought to protect our sense self in the familiar "tent", a home ordered to our self concept.

23 For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? 24 Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God may say; and thou shalt speak unto us all that the Lord our God may speak unto thee; and we will hear it and do it.’ 

Yet, Hashem does not rebuke us for our need to escape His Wisdom. Instead, He posits a long term strategy of educational growth. 

25 And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye spoke unto me; and the Lord said unto me: ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee; they have well said all that they have spoken. 26 Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear Me, and keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever! 27 Go say to them: Return ye to your tents.

This long term strategy of self transformation, in which we gradually attain maturity in our relationship with His Wisdom, is the underpinning of the Torah's notion of "Remembrance". Even as we escape to our "tents" the flexible mind maintains remembrance-- a commitment to undergo a process of growth over long periods of time. 

At strategic intervals we bring key encounters with His Wisdom to mind, in order to slowly incorporate the lessons into our lives. In this way we can gradually extend our sense of His Wisdom as it is illustrated in certain key cases (Yetziat Mitzraim, Sinai etc) to an ever greater domain of our world. In this we way we resolve our conflict with Wisdom, through slowly developing an ever deeper appreciation of the way in which the general d'varim of Wisdom we heard at Sinai, specify 613 concrete mitzvot which  illuminate each and every aspect of our lives.

 9Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes saw, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but make them known unto thy children and thy children’s children; 10the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me: ‘Assemble Me the people, and I will make them hear My d'varim that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.’ 

Now that we see remembrance as a process, a cornerstone of educational transformation of a flexible self concept, we are in the position to answer our original question. We see why the educational process takes on remembrance of specific days. We need to regularly return to events such as Sinai and Yetziat Mitzraim to gradually internalize their message. But why would the timing of remembering days be so inconsistent? Why is the educational process of internalizing "remember the Shabbos day" limited to Shabbos, while the educational process of internalizing "remember this day" is potentially much longer than the 15th of Nissan.

We will complete this answer in the next post.

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