Remember again and again

By Rabbi Kimberly Herzog Cohen
Parashat Beha’alotecha

This week I celebrated my birthday. So many discoveries and such growth can happen in a year, especially when there is so much grief and joy we hold collectively and individually. I remember the good days, the challenging ones and, through it all, the patience, kindness and consideration of community as we practice sacred responsibility and strive toward balance.

What a difference a year makes. And so said the Israelites in this week’s Torah portion as they commemorate their freedom from Egypt and the birth of the Israelite nation. Amid the desert journey, the Israelites pause to offer the Passover sacrifice:

“The Eternal One spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, on the first new moon of the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, saying: Let the Israelite people offer the Passover sacrifice at its set time: You shall offer it on the 14th day of this month, at twilight, at its set time…. You shall offer it in accordance with all its rules and rites.” (Numbers 9:1-3)

This is a familiar concept in the Torah — remember, remember, again and again we are told. Remember you were strangers in Egypt, remember to keep the Shabbat, remember receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. The repetition of this injunction to remember is not entirely about glorifying the past or about holding tightly to what has been; rather, we remember because it is so easy to forget, to forget the lessons and growth we have cultivated over time. It is so easy to forget our roots that give us nourishment and guidance as we strive forward. It is so easy to forget because in our fast-paced and fragmented world, we often overlook the beauty, potential, courage and strength that lies right before us and among us. Our Torah reminds us to remember so we can recommit ourselves to the practice of learning and living. 

As my colleagues and community members travel to Israel this week and immerse themselves in learning and living, I am moved by the way our spiritual homeland can forever remind us, and challenge us, inspire us and shape who we are, and who we seek to become. I remember the growth and transformation that has emerged from my previous pilgrimages to Eretz Israel. I remember the red and pink color of pomegranates in the month of Elul, arching down over the Jerusalem streets. I remember exploring the endless passageways of the Old City and looking out at the sparkling Mediterranean as we approached Haifa. I remember the fresh vegetables, and cheese and delicious pastries. And I remember arguments in the shuk, the stress of war, the sadness of loss. I remember my first days of Hebrew class, staring wide-eyed at the white board as the tough sabra of a teacher rattled off more and more words, that swirled in my mind, until they finally rolled off my tongue. Most especially, I remember the many people who embraced me and challenged me, as an undergrad, a post-college student, a rabbinical student and as a rabbi.

But as I remember, I know for certain there are things I have forgotten. And I know that Israel has changed, as have I. Near and far, may we rediscover ourselves through eyes renewed, and through the rich dialogue and learning that will extend within each journey.

Rabbi Kimberly Herzog Cohen serves Temple Emanu-El and is a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

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