Parshat Ekev: Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25; Isaiah 49:14-51:3.
Memory and recollection are fundamental attributes we depend on to live meaningful and successful lives. We use techniques to remind ourselves of important tasks, appointments and occasions. From calendars to sticky notes, shopping lists and pill organizers, we utilize an array of tools to remember what we deem important.
We adorn walls and mantels with art, mementos and motivational mantras. The classic “Home sweet home” reminds us that we are fortunate to have a roof over our heads and a family who supports and loves us. Wedding portraits reaffirm our love and commitment, reminding us of the day we celebrated our marriage. An artfully decorated “If not now, when?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14) reaffirms “the day is short, and the work is plentiful” (Pirkei Avot 2:15), “don’t put off for later what you can do now.”
Our Jewish rituals, too, incorporate reminders. During shacharit (the daily morning service), many recite a collection of biblical verses referencing the exodus from Egypt, the receiving of the Torah, the war with Amalek, the golden calf, Miriam’s slander of her brother Moses and the Sabbath day. Collectively these are referred to as the Shesh Zechirot. the “six remembrances,” and the Torah makes special mention that we recall these events.
Some recollections are painful but are part of our consciousness as a people. The Talmud instructs us to leave a portion of the wall near the door unfinished to remind us of the destruction of the Temple. At a Jewish wedding, there are traditions meant to remind us of the loss of Jerusalem, including the singing of the hauntingly beautiful song “If I forget you Jerusalem” (Psalm 137:5, 6).
In this week’s Torah portion, we have, perhaps, the most well-known of “reminders” for us as Jews. Moses instructs the Israelites that the mezuzah should be placed on our houses and gateways, and tefillin placed as a sign on our arms and adornments on our heads.
Each of these sacred and ritual objects contain passages of scripture reminding us of fundamental events and our responsibilities as Jews. The mezuzah contains the first two paragraphs of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21), and the tefillin contain four separate paragraphs (Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21).
The passages from Exodus remind us of our salvation from Egypt by the hand of God and our commitment to acknowledge God’s providence through our actions. The passages from Deuteronomy remind us of God’s sovereignty, our duty to pass the traditions to our children and His commitment to sustain us as we dedicate ourselves to His service.
As we perform the daily ritual of donning tefillin and when we acknowledge a mezuzah as we pass through a doorway, we have an opportunity to recall and reaffirm our partnership with God, who took us out of Egypt and who continues to sustain us today, to do our part to ensure the continuity and vibrancy of our faith.
Rabbi Azaryah Cohen is head of school at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield.