"I do not pass through a series of instances of now, the images of which I preserve and which, placed end to end, make a line. With the arrival of every moment, its predecessor undergoes a change: I still have it in hand and it is still there, but already it is sinking away below the level of presents; in order to retain it, I need to reach through a thin layer of time."
What was a (recent) experience where memory changed your feelings, views, or actions in the present. How did you come upon that memory?
“JEWS HAVE SIX SENSES
Touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing … memory. While Gentiles experience and process the world through the traditional senses, and use memory only as a second-order means of interpreting events, for Jews memory is no less primary than the prick of a pin, or its silver glimmer, or the taste of the blood it pulls from the finger. The Jew is pricked by a pin and remembers other pins. It is only by tracing the pinprick back to other pinpricks – when his mother tried to fix his sleeve while his arm was still in it, when his grandfather’s fingers fell asleep from stroking his great-grandfather’s damp forehead, when Abraham tested the knife point to be sure Isaac would feel no pain – that the Jew is able to know why it hurts.
When a Jew encounters a pin, he asks: What does it remember like?”
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated
Some memories are communal and some are individual. We choose what we remember (consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously), and we choose how we go about remembering it (consciously). Let's first consider several examples provided by the Torah for what we are called to remember and how. Our first example: Noah and the post-flood covenant.
And God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, and with every living thing that is with you—birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well—all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth. I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God further said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come. I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
God designates the rainbow as a memory mechanism for his covenant - kindof like a wedding ring. But the text doesn't mention any formal mechanism for remembering the flood itself. How can we imagine Noah et al.'s experience to be different if they'd been journaling about it or instagramming it or facebooking it? And then, how can we imagine their memory to be different?
Next, let us consider the exodus from Egypt.
And Moses said to the people, “Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, the house of bondage, how the LORD freed you from it with a mighty hand: no leavened bread shall be eaten. You go free on this day, in the month of Abib. So, when the LORD has brought you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall observe in this month the following practice: “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival of the LORD. Throughout the seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten; no leavened bread shall be found with you, and no leaven shall be found in all your territory. And you shall explain to your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I went free from Egypt.’ “And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead—in order that the Teaching of the LORD may be in your mouth—that with a mighty hand the LORD freed you from Egypt. You shall keep this institution at its set time from year to year.
Here, we remember the exodus through several mechanisms: 1) Actions: eating unleavened bread 2) Telling the exodus narrative 3) Constructing physical reminders.
*How do the different mechanisms complement each other? Are all of them necessary?
*The mechanisms are specifically for remembering the exodus from Egypt, not the experience of being slaves
>>Though, our Passover seder is devised so that we first experience slavery in order to then go through the experience of becoming free, and we use similar mechanisms - narrative, foods - to conjure those memories
*Again, what relics do we have of people's experiences in slavery? Or the exodus? What would those relics have been and how would they have changed people's experiences and subsequent memories? How would those have been different considering the technologies we have today?
Lastly, let us consider shabbat.
Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
Shabbat is different from the prior examples in that it does not, in its origin, recall a collective Jewish experience, but rather God's experience. However, subsequent observance - remembering - of shabbat has made it a collective Jewish experience.
Two aspects of Shabbat are reflected in the two expressions found in the two different presentations of the Ten Commandments found in the Torah. "Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy..." (Exodus 20:8) and "Guard the Sabbath to keep it holy..." (Deuteronomy 5:12) were, according to tradition, heard simultaneously by the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Zachor, "remember," refers to the positive commandments of the day--the things we do. Shamor, "guard," refers to the negative commandments--the things we may not do.
On Shabbat, the 39 different categories of activities which were necessary for construction of the Mishkan are prohibited. While these categories of labor refer to the construction of the Mishkan, they actually encompass all forms of human productivity: they represent constructive, creative effort, demonstrating man's mastery over nature.
Here, we remember the sabbath through the mechanism of observing the shabbat rituals, which have come to include all three of the mechanisms outlined above for remembering the exodus.
At the same time, on shabbat we are prohibited from using technology or from any means of recording our experiences, be they writing, artistic, etc. How does that affect our experience of the day? How does it affect our memory of the day? How do the mechanisms take on a different role under these circumstances? To what extent does the inability to create reinforce communal memory rather than individual memory?
“I mean that we control the way we remember the past, and that’s what matters in the present. We choose what is worthy of our memory. We should probably be grateful that we can’t remember everything as God does, because if we did, we would find it impossible to forgive anyone. The limit of human memory encourages humility.”
― Dara Horn, A Guide for the Perplexed: A Novel
“But then again I wonder if what we feel in our hearts today isn't like these raindrops still falling on us from the soaked leaves above, even though the sky itself long stopped raining. I'm wondering if without our memories, there's nothing for it but for our love to fade and die.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant