This week’s Torah portion explains that after the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were to bring some of their “first fruits” to the Temple as a sign of thanksgiving and gratitude. But a significant part of the ritual went beyond giving thanks; the people were to verbally recount that they had been slaves in Egypt and that God brought them forth to freedom. In other words, by remembering their collective history, they would always understand their identity as Israelites (or as Jews).
I believe that one of the great challenges that we face today is the reality that too many Jewish people have either forgotten or become insensitive to that history and from whence we have come. Repeatedly, the Torah tells us that we are to remember that “we were slaves in Egypt.” And the reason for this remembering? It has to do with the values and ideals we learned and perpetuated throughout the generations. “You shall know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.” That commandment seeks to emotionally and morally connect us to the “strangers” of our society and world. The “strangers” with special needs. The “strangers” who come to us with different backgrounds and cultures, and who seek to be a part of us. And repeatedly, the Torah tells us that it is because we remember our historic experiences, that we are to have empathy for those who do not know the blessings that we enjoy — freedom, the opportunities to make something good and fulfilling of our lives, and of course, the abundance of material possessions that most of us know.
It has been said that “a people that does not remember its past can have no future” “Remembering” has always been a compelling aspect of Jewish identity. Through remembering, we are inspired to pursue goodness and righteousness.
Shabbat Shalom. I hope you will join us this evening as we “remember” and celebrate our heritage. .