Ki Seitzei – A Trick to Remember

The Torah commands that six events be remembered always: (1) Remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt, (2) Remembrance of receiving the Torah at Har Sinai, (3) Remembrance of the golden calf, (4) Remembrance of the Shabbos, (5) Remembrance of Miriam, (6) Remembrance of Amalek’s attack. The last two are in this week’s Torah portion of Ki Seitzei; the last one begins: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, as you departed from Egypt” (Devarim 25:17). Why must this episode always be remembered? What is the lesson we can take from it?
The Rosh quotes a Medrish Tanchuma (paragraph 9) in the name of Rebbe Levi who proposes a novel approach in the name of Rebbe Nosson: “[The Amalekites] came from the road like bandits. They had traveled 400 parsah from Mount Seir to Refidim. Hashem warned us to remember this matter. This is compared to a king who has a vineyard surrounded by a fence with a guard dog. The king said, ‘Whoever tries to break through the fence will be bitten by the dog.’ The son of the king came, broke through the fence, and the dog bit him. Whenever the king wanted to remind his son of his sin that he broke through the fence he would tell him about the dog biting him. So to whenever Hashem wanted to remind the Jews what they did in Refidim as it says ‘Is Hashem amongst us’ (Shemos 17:7), He would mention the bite of the dog, i.e. ‘Remember what Amalek did to you on the way.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Jews had a weakening of faith in Hashem right after He took them out of Egypt, when they traveled without water for three days. Hashem punished them with the attack of Amalek. The mitzvah to remember Amalek, according to this medrish, is to remind ourselves to strengthen our faith when we feel we are becoming lax. If one is waning in faith, or has any difficulty, wouldn’t it be more practical to be reminded, as clearly as possible, to get back on the right track?  Why not simply say: ‘Remember to strengthen your trust in Hashem when you feel you are losing it!?

Based on the context of the Rosh, we are not dealing with a onetime mistake but rather a problem with some level of frequency. The Rosh says the best way to handle it is to set a reminder of the original punishment given for the mistake. This has a greater impact on a person, to help him correct his ways, rather than to constantly be spelling out what he or she did wrong. In this case, we have a mitzvah to always remember what Amalek did to us. Some people even recite this paragraph every day with the five other events. That would seem to mean that it is very easy to lose one’s trust in Hashem and we need constant reminders to build our faith.

However, there is another practical lesson we can learn from here, which is that, as parents and teachers, the proper way to redirect children who  are continuously slipping in some area is to remind them of the original punishment they received for the mishap, and that will reinforce the notion to do the right thing.